Reducing your digital footprint
What is a digital footprint?
Did you know that running all of the servers in the world produces about the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as the entire aviation industry? These days we are all using and storing massive amounts of data in the form of email, documents, images, games, music, apps, clips and movies. We don’t often think about the environmental impact of our ‘digital footprint’ but it is growing rapidly! And it costs our organisations time, money and energy to store and back up all this stuff.
Check out this pithy little clip ‘how green is your internet‘ from an episode of Hungry Beast for a concise explanation.
By now you will be wondering… what can I do about this?
How to reduce your digital footprint!
I’m not an expert in this field. I could find no easy guide to this so I’ve made this one up, and recently updated it based on feedback from the kind commentators below. Your feedback is welcome.
Think about the impact and use of different types of data
- Notice the size of different types of files
- Moving images and multimedia files take up lots of room – movies, music, games etc.
- Still images take up a bit.
- Emails without attachments, text documents, and other kinds of text take up much less room.
- Notice the different ways that data is used and stored
- Data sitting in long-term storage on cloud servers and not being actively used, e.g. email accounts you no longer use.
- Data sitting in long-term storage on cloud servers that is being actively used. eg: your current gmail account, your Flickr photos that you make regular uploads to, the DropBox that you use.
- Data that’s travelling through servers but doesn’t stay there. eg: Mailing pictures to people, watching a video from iView, etc.
- Data that’s sitting on your own personal computer or work computer. This is your operating system (Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.) and your programs/applications (MS Word, Firefox, etc.) and your personal files (your email, movies, documents, etc.)
Avoid unnecessary digital storage in the first place
•send shared drive links at work instead of attaching documents to emails
•if you want access to a file in more than one place, create a shortcut rather than making a copy of the file
•don’t use and store large attachments if you don’t need to
•get in the habit of regularly deleting large emails (like those with images and other files attached) that you don’t need from your inbox and sent box – you can do this faster by sorting them by size or using mailbox clean up tools
•zip big files
•save large files that only need to be read-only as PDFs
Do a little stocktake of the bigger and/or less useful contributors to your digital footprint – think about things like:
•Work PC and Mailbox
•Home PC and Mailbox
•Facebook account and other similar like MySpace
•Blogs and online journals that you keep
•Online storage like Dropbox
•Webmail like Yahoo, Gmail, hotmail etc
•Online photo and video storage like Snapfish and flickr
Now work out what categories your own different kinds of data fall into and what you want to do about them
- Work out how many of these fall into Type 1 – i.e. accounts you actually don’t use any more or access infrequently. If you don’t need it, delete it. If you want to access it occasionally, you can move it to your local computer, unless that means you need to buy more storage or a new computer in order to do so, in which case it’s probably more efficient to leave online. You can archive large email folders that you aren’t using actively but need to look at occasionally – you can create an email account in your computer’s own email account and synch it with your online email to back up your old email, then delete what you don’t access regularly from cyberspace. Here are some tips on archiving: Using Outlook / PC: http://email.about.com/od/outlooktips/qt/et_archive_mail.htm; Using a Mac: http://guides.macrumors.com/Archiving_E-Mail; http://blogmines.com/blog/2011/10/03/how-to-configure-yahoo-mail-on-mac-os-x-lion/
- Work out what’s Type 2 – accounts that you actively use and store online. See if there are chunks of this that you don’t use, like old folders and albums, that you can delete or archive as above.
- For Type 4 – if your hard drive seems to be getting full, delete files from your computer that you don’t need, such as once-off downloads that are no longer needed, games you no longer play, music you no longer want, films you’re not going to watch again, audiobooks you’ve already listened to… Go and google to find ways to save space on your particular operating system. Start with phrases like “save space on a mac computer”, “save space with windows vista”, etc. Find five or so articles that look sensible and have been written within the last year or so (things change fast with computers!) and follow what seems applicable to your situation. Some relevant programs include WhatSize for mac (http://whatsizemac.com/) or TreeSize for windows (http://www.jam-software.com/treesize_free/). Some particular tips for email: If you use Outlook, use the Mailbox clean up tool. If you use Lotus Notes (yes, it’s true, some people do) I’m sure there’s a similar function and one I really like where you can get a prompt to save – or not – your sent items as you send them. In both Outlook and Lotus Notes you can delete attachments and retain the email if you need to. What you want to avoid is buying new drives just for storage.
Lobby your favourite computer manufacturer, internet provider, search engine or social media giant to green their energy supply
- If you’ve watched the Hungry Beast clip you’ll see that some companies are bowing to pressure to install renewable energy to power their servers or buy green energy.
- Since then more have followed, e.g. http://www.macrumors.com/2012/05/17/apples-data-centers-to-be-powered-by-100-renewable-energy/
- Here’s a review of different companies by Green Peace - why not get in touch with them and let them know your thoughts on this issue?
Got other ideas on how to reduce your digital footprint? Comment here!