Dark Data is killing the planet, and we need digital decarbonization

Dark Data is killing the planet, and we need digital decarbonization ...

Most digital information they collect, process, and stored for single-use purposes. This might be Google Photos or iCloud, a company''s outdated spreadsheets that will never be used again, or data from the internet of things sensors that have no purpose.

This dark data is anchored to the real world by the energy it requires. Even data that is stored and never used again occupies space on servers, mostly huge banks of computers in warehouses. Those computers and warehouses all use a lot of electricity.

The cost of living an effective organisational memory is a challenge, but at what cost to the environment? Many organisations are attempting to reduce their carbon footprints in an effort towards net zero. According to guidelines, they have generally focused on the reduction of traditional carbon production methods, such as carbon offsetting via third parties (planting trees to offset emissions from using petrol).

A digital carbon footprint

While most climate change advocates are focused on limiting emissions from the automotive, aviation, and energy industries, digital data is already comparable to these sectors and is still increasing. In 2020, digitalization predicted to generate 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

This year, digital data production is increasing rapidly. By 2025, it could almost double to 181 zettabytes. It is therefore surprising that little policy action has been taken to reduce the digital footprint of organizations.

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When we talk to people about our work, we discover they often assume that digital data, and even the process of digitalization, is carbon neutral. However, we are not necessarily in control of its carbon footprint for better or worse. We have adopted the concept of digital decarbonisation to help reduce this footprint.

We don''t mean using phones, computers, sensors, or other digital technologies to reduce an organisation''s carbon footprint. Instead, we are referring to lessening the carbon footprint of digital data itself. It''s essential to recognize that digitalization is not an environmental issue, but that it has huge environmental implications that depend on how we use digital methods in daily work activities.

Data centres (responsible for 2.5 percent of all human-induced carbon dioxide) have a higher carbon footprint than the aviation industry (2.1 percent), allowing for an organisation to calculate the carbon cost of data.

A typical data-driven business such as insurance, retail, or banking, might generate 2,983 gigabytes of dark data a day. If they were to keep that data for a year, that data would have a similar carbon footprint to flying six times from London to New York.

Companies produce 1,300,000,000 gigabytes of dark data per day, totaling 3,023,255 flights from London to New York.

The rapid growth of dark data raises significant questions about the use of current digital practices. In a recent study in the Journal of Business Strategy, we identified methods to assist organizations in collecting, processing, and processing digital data. We hope this will be a success for our all-time highs, and we will all need to engage with with each other if net zero is achieved.

By selecting which photos and videos you no longer need, you may even make a start. Every file on the Apple iCloud or Google Photos adds to your digital carbon footprint.