Overhead shot of a large desk with multiple laptops facing each other

What’s the Environmental Impact of Going Digital?

It’s been exactly a year since I was abroad attending an International Events Conference, returned home to quarantine for 14-days and the entire world went into lockdown.

Not only has the events industry been severely impacted, many organizations had to pivot (word of 2020) and find new ways to interact and conduct business with their customers and clients – VIRTUALLY.

This was tough and eventually became the new norm. And one cool thing that sprung from this experience is the ability to reach a larger (global) audience without having to physically travel! 

But what has the impact of going virtual been on the environment? Has this even crossed your mind?

View of the wing annd mountainside and water from inside an airplane

Impact 1: Reduced emissions from travel and flying

A huge HECK YES to reducing emissions from travel. A fraction of the population was fortunate enough to maintain their employment and was able to actually work from home. This has drastically reduced the amount of cars on the road and commuters into cities. 

In fact, “Largely because of working from home restrictions, transport CO2 emissions decreased by 40 % worldwide…” (Science Daily, 2020). That being said, as economies and countries began to re-open, the decrease is just a blip in the long-term rise of global carbon emissions. 

Photo of a globe facing the Afriica, Europe and Middle East

Solution 1: Minimize travel when possible

As the vaccine is rolled out, countries will begin to re-open and our daily lives will shift again – back to some sort of normalcy. And as Science Daily mentioned, carbon emissions will begin to increase again.

I get it, I too miss being on-site for in-person events. Nothing will be ever able to replace large gatherings and interactions. As social beings, we need this. It’s simply important to become more conscious ones. Are there any events, conferences or festivals that you can skip? And maybe only attend local ones and one international one. 

The point is to reduce your travel when and where possible. 

Some tips for eco-friendly travelling include:

  • Carpooling to and from the airport or event when possible
  • Look for LEED Certified or Green Key Certified buildings or hotels
  • Bring your own reusable containers (water bottle, coffee mug, utensils etc.)
Turquoise mug next to a laptop with a large video call on screen

Impact 2: More video, more carbon emissions

Sure, we’re social beings and we crave that human connection more than ever before. But, now that ALL of our meetings, events and family gatherings are predominantly online, what exactly is the impact of having everyone’s videos on?

Well, did you know that “if we turned off our cameras during our meeting our environmental impact [of the call] will be reduced by 96%”** Crazy right?

Macbook, ipad and iphone side by side on a table

Solution 2: Reduce, then Reduce Some More!

First, Reduce the amount of time you’re on video. Then, reduce the size of your device.

Let me explain. 

I’m not advising that we never go on video ever again. Because right now, if you’re living in Toronto (like me), then we’re still very much still not fully re-open. But it is about taking small steps to turn it off when and where possible.

For example, is there a portion of the webinar or event that you’re attending more presentation style? Maybe try turning off your camera then and turn it back on when it’s time for discussion. 

Are there some conversations that can be conducted via phone or text instead? 

The best way to think about it is with your phone battery. Notice how a video call drains your battery much faster than a phone call and even more so than a quick text? That’s how energy consumption and ultimately carbon emissions work.

The second thing to think about is using a tablet or your smartphone rather than your laptop or desktop (where possible). Much more power is utilized to charge your laptop and to run your desktop than it is to charge your tablet or smartphone. Less electricity for charging (or used) = less carbon emitted.

Close up of person's hand signing a document on a table

Impact 3: Less paper, more energy

Let me guess, you’re constantly finding ways to reduce your paper waste by emailing invoices and sending contracts for electronic signature. It’s great because you can save it on the cloud somewhere for tax season and future reference. 

It wasn’t until recently that I became conscious of the energy used to actually keep my website live or things stored on the cloud. I know, out of sight out of mind. 

So what do I mean exactly? 

First and foremost, you’re utilizing the electricity and energy that you’re plugging your devices in to charge and recharge.

Secondly, you’re also contributing to the use of the energy to keep data centers and servers running! 

It’s incredibly easy to overlook the energy usage that’s involved in running a network, which includes the physical infrastructure for sending and storing data (i.e. servers and data centers).

But if you think about it, energy has to be generated to both support the electricity for your home AND to power the servers and data centers including the heating and cooling of those buildings – Double whammy! 

So the contribution of your carbon footprint, not only lies with physically plugging your laptop into your wall but the infrastructure running the networks as well.

Blue skies aand white fluffy clouds

Solution 3: Delete & Off the Cloud then Changeover to Green Web Hosts

So what exactly can you do?

Anything and everything that can be deleted, do it. This includes any emails you no longer need and unsubscribing from notification emails (e.g. slack or social media) and newsletters you don’t read. Less emails = less server use = lower carbon footprint.

And instead of storing everything on the cloud, utilize your computer’s memory or an external hard drive instead. Yes, the cloud makes documents easily accessible and I too am not going to stop. BUT reducing unnecessary use is achievable.

You’re probably thinking, but energy and resources are used to manufacture the physical device, what about that? This is true, however continuous use of energy resources to host your files is not.

And if possible, change your own website host and find other websites that rely on greener website hosts i.e. ones that run on renewable energy sources or carbon offset their emissions.

Map of USA from space with all the lights on at night

Yes it’s mostly better that we’ve gone virtual because we’ve drastically reduced emissions from travelling BUT we need to continue to minimize travel when possible. Secondly, more video means more carbon emissions, again we should turn off our video where appropriate. Finally, by moving things digitally it’s continuously utilizing energy and we should delete things off the cloud when possible and find greener website alternatives. Let us know how you will be reducing your virtual footprint moving forward in the comments below!

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