In Wedia’s event, and the first of its #FutureDAM event series, Digital sobriety and digital marketing: the impact of online content, Xavier Verne Director of Sustainable IT at SNCF and member of The Shift Project, spoke about the rise of our digital consumption and the effects this has on the environment.
Here we share five key takeaways from this #FutureDAM event from Wedia.
In our current way of living, working and interacting, the number of connected objects from the dishwasher to the toothbrush have become part of our daily lives. But connecting such a range of objects comes with environmental consequences; from the antennas, cables, satellites and data centres that store and convert this information, even the simplest of objects require a whole host of materials to power them.
Digital technology and usage are increasing exponentially at the moment and there appears to be no slowdown in activity. With such reliance on this type of technology, we must find ways to make such usage more sustainably focused.
Out of all the different ways we consume digital media, video streaming causes the most environmental damage. Indeed, mobile operators have been making growth predictions over the last 10 years, and they estimate 45% traffic growth each year.
As technology becomes more advanced, various actors are improving video capacities. For example, in order to offer an optimised viewing experience for their premium plan, Netflix requires programmes to be filmed in 4k HDR. This in turn means that all the production process must adapt and upgrade their equipment to meet this demand. Add to this the fact that it is the mobile operators who have to finance the cost of rising demand for increased bandwidth and network coverage, and the environmental cost of upgrading equipment and increasing bandwidth becomes substantial.
With new technological advances, our consummation habits increase. Going from 3G to 4G to 5G means watching videos on mobile and whilst on the move, and if the quality isn’t as good as it should be, we ask ourselves why.
For companies producing videos, it is now time to think about how vital a video is for each project. Could it for example be replaced by a podcast or available in slightly lower quality? Services such as Media Delivery & Digital Experience which form part of Wedia’s Digital Asset Management solution are ways of ensuring content, and in particular videos, adapt automatically to the device and bandwidth of the user. This helps to put less pressure on networks and reduce energy consummation.
We know that the digital sector accounts for around 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 2.5-3% from the aviation industry. The automotive sector stands at 8% which is where the digital industry is heading. This is particularly crucial as whilst other sectors are trying to stabilise or reduce their emissions, the digital industry is experiencing rapid growth and increasing emissions.
Part of the reasons for such a solid environmental footprint, is the amount of storage facilities used to house the significant amounts of digital information.
The question now is how the infrastructure and power can keep up with such demands. For example, in Oregon, AWS has had to put in its own power source directly within a data centre to meet the need for the 900 megawatts of power that are required to fuel it. This is because Oregon does not have the electric capacity to meet such a demand.
Indeed, whilst scientists from Aston University estimate that the datasphere will increase by 300% by 2025, the storage space we currently have cannot cope with the rising volumes. So as new technology aims to help us reduce our carbon footprint, it in some ways is contradictory when it relies on being able to store increasing volumes of data. This is not forgetting the environmental impact of all the materials and energy resources that are need to support storage facilities.
With new advances in technology, we are promised new highly efficient models and products, but they are not realistically able to make significant reductions. Often consumers, if offered the choice between paying less for a less powerful solution or paying their current tariff for a more performing option will opt for the more powerful choice. People will as such maximise their comfort or experience for the same price, without thinking about the environmental consequences.
When we think about the differences in the products we use now, even if they are built to be more sustainable, they ultimately use far more materials than they would have done previously. For example, cars that were built 50 years ago were much lighter and consumed far less petrol than the modern cars that are now much bigger and use far more resources.
For many actors, for example Google, their business relies on the continuing increase of digital consumption. The more such technology is used, the more their business grows. In order to curb this and focus instead of sustainable actions it is likely that legal action will have to be enforced to demonstrate what is authorised and what is not, allowing major technological actors to follow a path to sustainability.
By just dividing our consummation habits by five, we will likely be able to make a significant reduction to our carbon footprint, all whilst maintaining a very similar way of living and interacting.
What can we do?
These changes will not be able to be made solely by businesses but through the intervention of governments and states.
However, with changes to our habits and with the help of businesses and brands making changes to how they operate, there are important ways to make carbon-reducing cuts. As we move into a world that is increasingly digital, we have the tools available to make it one that is also environmentally conscious.