When considering the ongoing environmental crisis, various images come to mind: crowded highways, landfills or industrial worksites. And, while these matters remain crucial sustainability focal points, another is quickly rising to unprecedented levels: digital technology.
Despite its seemingly separate existence from the physical world, digital activity has created its own unlikely carbon footprint. In fact, according to a 2019 study by the Shift Project, the world’s collective digital carbon footprint accounted for nearly 3.7 percent of all greenhouse emissions, which is comparable to aviation industry emission levels. In fact, digital technology’s energy consumption increased by almost 70 percent between 2013 and 2020.
As the world continues to leverage digital communication in response to COVID-19, this digital emissions crisis has only worsened. What’s more, even as vaccination efforts expand, the pandemic has already created a permanent niche for remote working. This paints a grim future for our digital carbon footprint as, without action, such emissions are expected to double by 2025.
To address this growing threat to the environment, behavioral and infrastructural change will be crucial in making the post-pandemic digital sector more sustainable.