The sooner we become aware of the effects that data pollution has on the environment, the sooner we will be able to tackle it.

The digital age has brought about countless conveniences and advancements in the way we communicate, access information, and conduct business. However, with the increased use of technology comes a significant rise in carbon emissions from digital data processes.

Indirect carbon emissions from digital data processes refer to the energy consumed by the infrastructure and equipment used to store, transmit, and process data. This includes the energy used by servers, data centers, and networks, as well as the energy required to manufacture and dispose of electronic devices.

According to a study by the Shift Project, the digital sector is responsible for approximately 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This may not seem like a large percentage, but it is equivalent to the emissions produced by the entire aviation industry. Furthermore, it is projected that the digital sector’s emissions will continue to grow at a rapid rate, potentially reaching 14% of global emissions by 2040.

One of the main challenges to fight against data pollution is the complexity of measuring carbon dioxide emissions in the case of data processes. Not surprisingly, the European Commission stated: 

it is not possible to determine the exact share of greenhouse gas emissions, as reliable data on CO2 emissions is not available” (EC, 2020: 57).

The reason is simple, each data process is unique and it requires different tools and methodological approaches.The good news is that there are steps that can be taken to reduce the indirect carbon emissions produced by digital data processes. One solution is to increase the use of renewable energy sources to power data centers and other digital infrastructure. Additionally, companies can implement energy-efficient practices, such as using virtualization technology to maximize server utilization and implementing power management systems to reduce energy consumption.

Another solution is to reduce the amount of data that needs to be stored and transmitted. This can be achieved by implementing data compression techniques, reducing the number of copies of data that are kept, and eliminating unnecessary data.

Finally, consumers can also play a role in reducing digital emissions by choosing to purchase energy-efficient devices and using them responsibly. They can also reduce their digital footprint by using cloud services and software that is hosted on servers with low carbon emissions.

In conclusion, the digital sector is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, and it is essential that steps are taken to reduce the indirect carbon emissions produced by digital data processes. By implementing energy-efficient practices and reducing the amount of data that needs to be stored and transmitted, companies and consumers can play a significant part in reducing emissions and slowing the progression of climate change.

Check out some facts and figures about the environmental impact of data pollution here.