Welcome to the world of Digital Sustainability

When talking about climate change and sustainability, the conversation is usually focussed on the physical aspects such as waste, resource use, emissions growth etcetera. As a result, the words digital and sustainability are rarely seen side by side. Digital was already seen as more sustainable as it reduced the amount of paper and natural resources being used. In fact, in recent years, more and more organisations have undergone digital transformations and moved many of their resources online. Just when we thought we’d cracked the climate change code, however, it has come to light that digital activity actually has a significant impact on the environment. In a February 2021 report on email pollution, Cleanfox wrote “if the internet were a country, it would be the 6th biggest polluter in the world”. Moving everything online, therefore, does not mean that we can give ourselves a collective pat on the back for our ‘sustainable’ efforts!

Amidst this growing awareness of digital pollution, there has been an increase in brands attempting to create more eco-friendly online experiences. As an example, Volkswagen recently launched their newly reconstructed Canadian Website advertising their electric vehicles. Volkswagen removed all colour from the website, thereby reducing the amount of data within its media. In addition, they replaced their photographs with ‘car calligrams’ made out of low-data text characters. This redesign significantly lowered the amount of CO2 generated by online browsing – making their sustainable products, sustainable to find. For those of us who are not that technologically-savvy, some of these concepts can seem a bit abstract. In an ever-increasing digital world, however, it is important to appreciate that every online interaction is quietly contributing to climate change. What’s more, in carona-times, digital is only accelerating. This means that the environmental implications of digital and data-usage is more relevant than ever for brands. 

Image source: Volkswagen carbon-neutral net