How to Minimize the Impact of Digital Technology During the Pandemic

Close-up view of young professional graphic designer planing his project in comfortable workplace

Guest Blog Post by Mike Gifford, founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc.

There has been a huge shift to using digital tools over the last month or so as people seek ways of continuing to work, study and interact with each other while staying at home to comply with physical distancing. 

This has in many ways had advantages for the environment. People are commuting a lot less, many nearly empty buildings have turned down heating (or air conditioning). We are also consuming less stuff because we are actively being discouraged from leaving our homes. 

But digital transformation does have an environmental cost. It takes a lot of energy to deliver all of those video conferences, stream all those movies, and engage in all of our favourite social media platforms. There are absolutely good reasons to do this, but we should also be aware of the costs of this consumption and do what we can to minimize it. 

In this three-part blog series by Mike Gifford, founder and CEO of Open Concept, we will take a look at what the environmental impact of digital tools is and what steps we can take in our everyday lives to reduce it. 

Read part 1 of the series here : What Can Organizations Do To Reduce CO2 During The Pandemic?

Video Conferencing

Close-up view of young professional graphic designer planing his project in comfortable workplace

Most people hadn’t even heard of Zoom in February, now it seems everyone has downloaded the application to connect with family, friends and co-workers. Zoom is just one of a handful of tools that people are using.  It is absolutely good to have that face to face interaction while we can, but it isn’t always needed.  Remember video consumes considerably more bandwidth than audio.  

Remember that using a VPN can be useful for security, but that the additional level of encryption ends up taking more bandwidth. Absolutely use it when it makes sense, but do not stream your audio and video over it. Also, when you are going through your VPN, it dramatically decreases the quality of the call. 

The Sites We Use

Most of us do not realize it, but the internet consumes a lot of electricity. Learn what we can do about it in this Guest Blog series by Mike Gifford, founder of OpenConcept Consulting.

The Green Web Foundation is a great resource which is able to identify which servers are powered by green energy. They have a browser extension that will tell you if a server is known to be powered by green energy as you are searching the web. This is a great way to prioritize sites and services that care about the environment. 

Companies can also use this service to determine if their own websites and services are known to be powered by green energy.  Putting pressure on the supply chain to invest in renewable energy is a key party of seeing adoption. We can do a lot to research the services we use and see that they know that being carbon neutral is a goal. Better yet, be carbon negative like Microsoft is committed to.

Need to Consume Less

Much of the internet is still powered by dirty energy, and for many data centers the electricity is one of the biggest ongoing costs. The Shift Project has developed an Android Application and a Firefox Extension that allows users to calculate the CO2 of data they are using. You can also add the Ecosia extension to your browser or smartphone and plant trees with every search you do. Ecosia is a Certified B Corporation, so you know that the work that they are doing is robust. 

Another big piece of this puzzle is just building more performant sites and services.  Websites need to be smaller than they are, it just hasn’t been a priority for clients or developers. The team at Wholegrain Digital has produced a Website Carbon Calculator that can be used to evaluate how much carbon a web page generates based largely on how large a page is. They also have guidance on how to choose a green host, and ways to make your website more efficient

Leading by Example

Wholegrain is a really inspiring company that is not only a Certified B Corporation that developed this Website Carbon Calculator and a Sustainable Web Manifesto, but has also:

In Canada, organizations are incentivizing employees to sign up to Bullfrog Power. This can be done for both electricity and natural gas. Especially with more organizations adopting a “work from home” approach, this is a responsible position for an conscientious employer to take. 

Join Others

Carbon 613: In Ottawa, join EnviroCentre’s green business program Carbon 613. There is so much that can be done working in your community and setting targets for reduction.  We have to measure what matters. Tracking Hydro Ottawa, Enbridge Gas and water usage and waste is really important. Carbon 613 is open to all organizations in the Ottawa area. 

B Corp: The Certified B Corp community has a number of great policies that can be used to inspire best practices. Take the B Impact Assessment and be inspired to implement new policies.  

Greenhouse Gasses: Science Based Targets is an amazing group working to evaluate Scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gasses. This is geared for larger businesses, but there is a lot that can be learned from it. 

Global Networks: The Global Compact Network is another space for organizations working to implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Read Part 3 of this three-part blog series here: What If Remote Work Became The New Normal?


About the author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.

As a techie at heart, Mike likes to get into the code when he gets the chance. Being ultimately concerned about the implementation and implications of the technology, he is able to envision how your website can become a much more powerful communications tool for your organization.

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