Do you know the size of your footprint? Not your shoe size, of course, but your carbon footprint. The figure refers to the volume of greenhouse gas emissions generated annually by products, people or companies through their direct or indirect behaviour. Whereas in the early years of the climate crisis the reduction of carbon emissions was still presented as an individual mission that could be accomplished by adjusting one’s own behavioural patterns, there is now a growing awareness of the structural nature of the phenomenon. Consequently, the pressure on companies to review their established processes and structures in terms of sustainability has also grown with the aim of reducing their carbon footprint – and that also applies to the field of green IT.
While most people are now familiar with the general concept of the carbon footprint, only very few are aware that the term also has a digital counterpart – the “digital carbon footprint”, which focuses on the environmental impact of our digital behaviour. Every e-mail sent, every website visited and every minute spent streaming requires energy – and thus generates carbon emissions accordingly.
Here we present five measures that are both easy to implement and scalable – thus enabling not only individual employees but also the entire company to reduce their carbon emissions – analogue as well as digital.
1. Hybrid working methods: video conference call instead of business trip
Although the concept of working from home has certainly been around for quite some time, the corona pandemic has definitely helped remote working to make a breakthrough in Germany – and therefore also spectacularly demonstrated the volume of carbon emissions that could potentially be reduced by adopting hybrid working methods (i.e. through a combination of conventional face-to-face and digital remote working).
On behalf of the environmental organisation Greenpeace, the Berlin-based think tank IZT has calculated the positive impact of green IT on our carbon footprint. According to the IZT, our carbon footprint could be reduced by up to 5.4 million tonnes per year if 40% of employees were to work permanently from home two days a week.
Therefore, it is always worthwhile to question which work meeting requires everyone involved to be present – and which, on the other hand, could also be held as a video conference call. It also helps to be able to fall back on reliable solutions such as the digital New Work applications offered by Vodafone.
2. Energy efficiency: saving the world (a little bit) by using the “sleep” mode
Energy efficiency is, of course, a key point that helps every company to reduce its carbon footprint. While structural measures such as switching to green energy by moving to a sustainable electricity provider can contribute significantly to reducing carbon emissions, a whole host of small gestures can also make a difference overall.
Digital devices in particular can often be used in such a way that their energy efficiency is significantly improved, such as by switching off devices over the weekend, by setting an energy-saving mode on laptops, or by optimising lighting concepts. Even the simple act of regularly setting the sleep mode on a single computer can reduce carbon emissions by as much as 136 kg per year.
3. Reduce, reuse, recycle – even in everyday office life!
The proverbial sustainability triad “reduce, reuse, recycle” can also be applied to every aspect of digital and analogue office life. The consumption of paper in particular has a great deal of potential for improvement, as texts do not necessarily need to be printed out in order to work on them. Apart from that, old print samples are excellent for jotting down reminders or making notes. There are also plenty of “green” solutions for printer cartridges, from refilling to sustainable disposal. That applies to all electronic devices – many of which can often be hired instead of purchased, for example.
4. Google, Ecosia, etc. – first think, then search
According to a study conducted by Stanford University, internet use already accounts for more than 2% of electricity consumption worldwide – and the trend is growing. Search queries via Google and similar engines also make up a not entirely insignificant contribution – roughly 0.2 grams of carbon per search. To reduce these emissions, it can be helpful not to research web addresses that you already know, but to enter them directly. Better still, you can switch to a green search engine such as Ecosia (listen to what Génica Schäfgen, Head of Germany at Ecosia, has to say about green digitalisation and green IT in our podcast).
5. Boost energy efficiency – with a clean mailbox
Sending and storing e-mails uses electricity and therefore generates around 3 grams of CO2 per e-mail. Maintaining a clean mailbox and unsubscribing to unneeded newsletters are therefore two simple ways of reducing energy consumption.
Moreover, the servers on which the e-mails are stored require large amounts of water to keep them cool. Cutting down on internal mail traffic and sending links to the storage location rather than whole documents can help reduce the carbon footprint.
Conclusion: green IT is not a no-brainer
Emissions can be significantly reduced by taking simple measures, both at work and through the more conscious use of digital technologies. As the examples provided show, green IT can make a valuable contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but also needs to be applied carefully and thoughtfully.
Business success rethought