Posted: 06 Dec. 2022

Divisive device use: Your environmental blind spot

Are you practising sustainable IT? 

Technological devices are a crucial element of all industries. But these inventions consume far more energy than you might think, meaning that even simple daily practices add up to a big impact on the environment. Find out how to use your devices responsibly.  

You may be a champion of environmental sustainability, but you might be overlooking a key area of environmental harm. If you’re the average office worker, you probably receive around 121 emails per day, of which half are spam 1 . A basic arithmetic exercise shows the impact of your daily email:

60.5 spam emails  x   0.3 g CO2e2  =  18.5 g CO2e 

30.25 standard emails  x  4 g CO2e2   =  121 g CO2e 

30.25 emails with attachments  x  50 g CO2e2 =  1512.5 g CO2e 
 

A day’s worth of emails adds up to a whopping 1,652 g of CO2 emissions. If you extrapolate this to yearly numbers, it adds up to about 0.6 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Note that the total yearly carbon footprint of the average individual living in India is about 1.5 tonnes CO2 emissions3. The emails received by you and two of your colleagues surpasses a year’s worth of another human’s carbon footprint.

What’s more, scarce resources have been mined from the earth to create the device you are checking your emails on, with millions of tons of earth moved to make that possible. Unfortunately, efforts to offset through circularity and IT equipment recycling remain nascent.

Many people are unaware of the huge impact the IT industry has on the environment. Not only does it consume more energy than aviation or refinery, it also uses a substantial amount of rare metals, plastics and other environmentally unfriendly substances. To build an initial understanding of the impact of IT on the environment, let’s explore some practical ways to reduce the impact and save energy and costs in the process; even small and easy behavioural changes could make a big difference:

  1. Type a URL directly into your web browser’s address field, rather than using a search engine. You’ll save about ten times the energy Google would use finding the site for you4. On average, per year, powering and generating results for Google searches requires almost the same amount of energy that’s needed to power 200,000 homes5.
  2. To share a file, upload it (to Teams, OneDrive, Dropbox, etc). Or you can even use WeTransfer or other sharing services. When you send an email attachment, multiple copies are stored (often for years) by multiple servers, representing multiple energy needs.
  3. Turn off your camera in video calls. Unless facial reactions are essential, a video call is commanding an unnecessary amount of energy.
  4. Clean up your computer. By deleting unneeded files and unused applications, you enable it to save resources and prolong its lifespan significantly.
  5. Limit your social-media use. Every time you visit a platform that delivers you advertisements, it demands more energy from your device. The same goes for any website with advertising.
  6. Turn off your device. ‘Standby’ and ‘sleep’ modes still use power. If you’re not using your device, shutting it down saves substantial energy, especially if it’s old.
  7. If you’re eyeing a new device, think twice. Manufacturing one laptop generates an average of 331 kg of CO2; producing three of them churns out enough to fill a three-bedroom house6. Plus, many of the parts have to be created new, from mined natural resources, and aren’t recyclable. And in some regions, they’re being disposed of improperly. Then there are the emissions generated while shipping it to your door…need we go on? Extend the life cycle of your current device and postpone replacement. Or, if you really need a new device, go for refurbished.
  8. Use a Wi-Fi network when possible. Connecting to the web via Wi-Fi consumes about half as much energy than using 4G7. Using Wi-Fi also helps you not run out of mobile data before the end of the month, killing two birds with one stone.

There’s no need to stop using your electronic devices; in fact, it’s better to squeeze every last moment of life from them before saying goodbye. But staying educated about responsible technology use should be a priority, for ICT departments and tech users in general.

Deloitte is committed to creating a sustainable future and supporting clients to achieve it. Internally, we run an awareness campaign addressing the topics above. In addition, we are working on creating a net-zero IT environment. One example is the use of re-furbished smart-phones for all our employees. For clients we are involved in projects to reduce the environmental footprint of their IT. Together with technology partners we are working with clients to increase the circularity of IT assets. If you would like to understand more about how to minimise the environmental impact of your IT, reduce energy and resource consumption and increase the circularity of your IT assets, please contact Eric Onderdelinden

1 Global News, “This is how much time you spend on work emails every day, according to a Canadian survey”, April 21st,2017, https://globalnews.ca/news/3395457/this-is-how-much-time-you-spend-on-work-emails-every-day-according-to-a-canadian-survey/, last accessed on August 1st, 2022

2 BBC, “Why your internet habits are not as clean as you think”, March 6th, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200305-why-your-internet-habits-are-not-as-clean-as-you-think#:~:text=Perhaps%20unsurprisingly%2C%20the%20footprint%20of,University%20who%20researches%20carbon%20footprints, last accessed August 1st, 2022

3 Our World in Data, “India: CO2 Country Profile”, 2020, https://ourworldindata.org/co2/country/india, last accessed August 1st, 2022

4 Calculation based on statistics from:ResearchGate, “Energy consumption of 22 queries under four different settings”, https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Energy-consumption-of-22-queries-under-four-ifferent-settings_fig5_314110435, last accessed July 11, 2022, and Urs Hölzle, “Powering a Google search”, Google, January 11, 2009, https://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/01/powering-google-search.html, last accessed July 11, 2022.

5 Direct Energy, “Powering a Google search: The facts and figures”, November 28, 2017, https://business.directenergy.com/blog/2017/november/powering-a-googlesearch#:~:text=Collectively%2C%20Google%20uses%20about%202.26,necessary%20to%20sustain%20200%2C000%20homes. last accessed July 11, 2022.

6 Circular Computing, “What is the carbon footprint of a laptop?”, August 9, 2021, https://circularcomputing.com/news/carbon-footprint-laptop/, last accessed July 11, 2022.

7 Longhao Zou, Ali Javed, Gabriel-Miro Muntean, “Smart mobile device power consumption measurement for video streaming in wireless environments: WiFi vs. LTE”, ResearchGate, https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Energy-Consumption-Comparison-WiFi-vs-LTE_fig4_318574812#:~:text=An%20internet%20connection%20using%20a,%2C%202019).%20, last accessed July 11, 2022

Contact

Eric Onderdelinden

Eric Onderdelinden

Director

I'm a very experienced enterprise architect and lead the Enterprise Architecture offering within the Netherlands. I'm specialized in Enterprise Architecture with a focus on the private sector. Besides in depth knowledge of Industrial processes and products I bring a wealth of experience in data and technology , including cloud services and desired agility, to the table. Recent assignments include pre-merger assessment and post merger integration. I work on project dealing with application portfolio rationalization, business case development and TCO. I publish on a regular basis in IT and business magazines. I support companies worldwide with the establishment and maturing of their EA practice. I'm a teacher in the master class enterprise architecture organized by the NAF. Besides that I'm a memebr of the board for Platfrom Digitale Wendbaarheid. Currently I'm working on a PhD concerning the value contribution of IS in M&A.