Simple Steps to Reduce Our Digital Footprint

Submitted by Stephanie Douglas

Have you ever wondered how much energy is being used to store and save those 50 copies of the same  picture of you and your friend in front of a smoothie stand in slightly different poses?  Where are all of our photos, files, etc. stored and how is the storage system powered?  What is the extent of our digital footprint?

In order to understand our digital footprint, we first need to understand how electricity is measured.  Electricity uses a unit of measurement called Watts.  Often you see a prefix in front of Watts such as kilo or mega; these are used for measuring larger amounts of energy;  Kilo = 1000 and mega = 1,000,000.  [1] 

Generally, kilowatt-hours (KWh) are used when talking about  everyday household use and this is what you see on your monthly bill.  The average yearly rate of a house in the USA is ~7,200 KWh (or 600-800 KWh per month). To put it into perspective, a large appliance such as a refrigerator would use between 300-400 KWh per year.  A smartphone uses about the same if not more in the same period of time.  [1] [2] 

So, where is all of our data stored?  What is ‘the cloud’? The information-communications-technologies (ICT) ecosystem encompasses all of our digital ‘toys’. There are tens of thousands of huge warehouses used to store all of our data around the world.  These data centers contain the information essential for all of us to go about our daily lives, using our connected devices. [3] 

Data centers account for between 1-10% of the total energy consumption of our planet.  Shockingly, this is comparable to the amount of energy used by literally everyone on earth in the year 1985! [2]

Thailand currently has over 20 data centers. Asia has over 500 data centers across 18 different countries. The USA has more than 5000.

Reducing this use of energy is a relatively easy process. Simple even! Recent research shows that if each individual on the planet cleaned out 10 junk emails right now this would immediately save 55.2 million kilowatts of power. [6] 

Imagine how much energy we could save if we all took 20 minutes, once a month, to go in and clean out any emails, documents and duplicate pictures that we no longer need.  

Our goal here at UWC Thailand is to have all of our secondary students and staff do a ‘clean up’ of all of their junk mail or files they don’t need once a month in their homeroom class for 15 minutes.  We hope that many of our school community will get into the habit of doing this regularly, so we can reduce our carbon footprint with very little effort.

For further statistics on what you can do to reduce your digital footprint please read this article.