Posted: 27 Sep. 2022

Tech vs travel: What’s environmentally worse?

The fingers are pointed in both directions, but the comparison is flawed

Both technology and travel enhance our lives and business, and are shining examples of how far humankind has advanced. But it’s time to examine their environmental fall-out; should we be curbing our tech use and cancelling our trips? 

Remember when it became relatively cheap to fly? Suddenly, the decision of whether to travel seemed easy. We said ‘Yes’ without hesitation, for years, until we became aware of a very good reason to say ‘No’: environmental damage.  


The same thing is occurring with the use of technology today. We say ‘Yes’ to shiny new devices. ‘Yes’ to data analytics. ‘Yes’ to social media. Most of us are completely unaware that this everyday complicity has the exact same consequences. Technology is saving us money, making us happy, and taking an enormous toll on the environment.  


In all honesty, it’s difficult to draw a like-for-like comparison between technology and air travel. The total emissions of both are significant, and nearly equal: IT contributes 4.2 per cent of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions1, and the aviation industry contributes 3.8 per cent2. But if we look globally, we see that 70 per cent of the population uses IT3, and only 10 per cent flies on planes4.   


This means that the climate impact of a single IT user is smaller than that of a flyer. But it also means that, cumulatively, we could make a staggering impact on emissions if 70 per cent of people woke up to the realisation that their daily tech choices are part of the problem. Regardless of how often we’re flying, there’s a clear pattern of massive and expanding IT use, whether we’re looking at Europe specifically, or the world as a whole. Even though, all hyperscalers5 are aiming to only use green electricity we also need to be aware that they are competing for green electricity with other green initiatives. Besides, the electricity infrastructure is struggling to keep up6, so reducing IT energy consumption makes a lot of green sense.  


Decisions to not to use social media as much, or to perform smarter online searches, or to charge devices more efficiently do make a difference, but they may not feel like they do. We can see jet fuel burning and the particulates it gives off; what’s less visible are the scarce resources being mined to replace our tired devices (cobalt, lithium, gold, etc.), the damage that mining does to the environment and inhabitants, or the emissions coming out of those big, whirring server centres working hard to meet our data demands.  


It's not just individuals who are making destructive choices. Companies are sold a dream of the perfect sales tool: data-driven analytics that help them put personalised ads in front of potential customers. But if only one out of every 100 ads is relevant, and clicking that ad doesn’t actually lead to a purchase, is that sales efficiency?  


Companies and individuals alike leap at tech solutions because technology is cheap, it’s easy, and it signifies progress, convenience, and benefits. It’s acceptable. Until it’s not. It’s time to start measuring technological advantage against the destruction being caused.  


Over time, eco-friendly alternatives to tech solutions will gain ground, but right now they’re niche. (Take a spin on the ‘green’ search engine EcoWho7 to get a glimpse of what’s possible.) At the moment, our work lies in seeing each use as a choice, measuring its impact, and learning to say ‘No’ when we realise the environmental cost is just too high. Here are some ways organisational leaders can make headway: 


  • Implement measurements that enable you to weigh the impact of personalised ads. Determine whether their click-through rate is actually granting a sales advantage. 

  • Consider whether blockchain technology is being applied aptly to a particular process, or whether a traditional approach may be just as useful and efficient.  

  • Limit your business’s use of social media, and encourage employees to limit theirs by educating them about the consequences. (Instagram users’ total daily carbon output has been estimated as the equivalent of driving a car around the earth 2,071 times every day.8

  • Gather operational data to identify where you can shave energy use off business processes.  

  • Perform a life-cycle analysis of each product in use or with potential use. Are you taking into account each step that goes into making that product and delivering it to you, from material sourcing to packaging? 

Besides reducing our own IT footprint, Deloitte helps clients explore the many ways to decrease their businesses’ IT footprint, ranging from having a clear data or cloud migration strategy to managing and extending IT asset lifecycles. We’ve reduced the footprint of current and planned IT solutions by focussing on efficiency or programming languages and algorithms. Moreover, we’ve achieved great results for our clients by creating awareness and educating users in making their IT usage more efficient. Curious to learn what fits best for your organisation? Connect with us! 

1 Sofia Benqassem, Frederic Bordage, Lorraine de Montenay, et al, “Digital technologies in Europe: An environmental life cycle approach”, the Greens/EFA, December 7, 2021,, last accessed June 8, 2022.

European Commission, “Reducing emissions from aviation”,, last accessed June 8, 2022.

3 Ericsson, “A quick guide to your digital carbon footprint, February 2020,, last accessed June 8, 2022.

Ericsson, “A quick guide to your digital carbon footprint, February 2020,, last accessed June 8, 2022.

Google Sustainability - Driving Sustainable Innovation;; Microsoft Azure Sustainability - Microsoft Sustainability

6 Netbeheerders publiceren landelijke capaciteitskaart voor producenten duurzame energie - Netbeheer Nederland


Sinead Barry, “Scrolling doesn’t just waste your energy. It wastes the planet’s, too”, EuroNews, May 24, 2021,, last accessed June 8, 2022. 


Eric Onderdelinden

Eric Onderdelinden


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.