3 May 2021
I was shockingly ignorant about the environmental impact of tech
I have been conscious of my own environmental impact from a young age.
I wasn’t wasteful. I recycled. I reused.
In fact, as kids, my sister and I spent a day hosting a cafe in our garden to raise money for the WWF. (The World Wildlife Fund, not the World Wrestling Federation – although I was a massive fan of that too! Can you smell what The Rock is cooking!?!)
I have also always embraced tech, mainly because it awesome, but I always thought it was better for the environment than the alternative.
When I thought about the environmental impact of tech I thought it must be better than life before. Email, for example, resulted in less paper is being used and a lower carbon footprint from things not being posted. Being able to store all your accounts on the cloud means not having to print and file years worth of invoices and bills. These all seemed like positives to me.
But it turns out, I was wrong.
The environmental impact of tech
We don’t talk about the environmental impact of tech a lot, and maybe it was just me being totally naive about the subject. But it turns out there is a LOT to consider on the subject, and we really should become better informed.
So, I am going to share a few things with you all that I was surprised to discover.
This is an obvious place to start when discussing the environmental impact of tech.
Most electronic devices contain toxic materials and non-biodegradable materials.
They’re not always disposed of responsibly and often end up in landfill where the toxic materials leak into the ground, contaminating it.
People throw batteries and printer cartridges in the bin, not bothering to take them to recycling points.
The more gadgets we adopt to make our lives easier, the more obsolete items we have to dispose of. Which has a real impact on our environment.
I do all my shopping online. I am an extroverted introvert, and when I feel social I love hanging out with people. But then I need alone time to recharge – for reals!
I hate going shopping in shops, I honestly can’t think of anything worse.
Being able to order literally anything from the comfort of my own home whilst binge-watching True Crime documentaries on Netflix is honestly revolutionary.
Obviously, there is an environmental impact of tech that allows me to do this, but it’s not black and white.
According to the British Council website: Supermarket drivers often do 120 deliveries on an 80-kilometre round, producing 20 kilograms of CO2 in total. In contrast, a 21-kilometre drive to the store and back for one household would generate 24 times more CO2!
That sounds great, doesn’t it?
But what if you aren’t in when a delivery driver arrives? And they come back the next day. That has doubled the carbon footprint.
And then what happens when we need to return an order?
If you order clothes online and they don’t fit, obviously you need to return them, which increases the carbon footprint even more.
We also need to consider the environmental impact of the packaging produced and used for our online shopping too.
When talking about the environmental impact of tech we have to talk about data centres.
It is estimated that data centres and digital infrastructure could be responsible for up to 20% of the world’s electricity consumption and 5.5% of c02 emissions within a decade.
Every tweet you send, every email, and every streamed song consumes energy.
Once you have sent that tweet, it is being stored in a data centre.
The individual action isn’t that big but the cumulative amount is absolutely massive.
This is a huge topic, and if you want to know more read this article from Nature.com as it covers it quite comprehensively. But honestly, this is something I had never considered.
Now, every time I go to send a tweet or an email, I ask myself is it worth it?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still tweeting too many pointless GIFs. But I’m trying to be more mindful.
There are so many other factors to consider that I’ve not gone into in this article:
- Our devices and how often we replace them
- The amount of energy used to train complex machine learning and deep learning models
- The ethical and environmental damage caused by mining and processing minerals in batteries
- And soooooo many more
So, what am I doing now?
Obviously, there is an incredible number of benefits from technology.
It’s helping to improve our lives, as well as saving them! I could honestly talk all day about how awesome tech is. But the purpose of this article is to share how shockingly ignorant I was about the environmental impact of tech.
I’m now trying to be more mindful about how I use tech to minimise my impact.
Honestly, I am still not going to the shops (I should probably also point out that we are still in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic while I write this.).
But I am being mindful of what I order and I’m trying not to send back too many returns.
I have 100% renewable energy from OVO and have done for a few years. This makes me feel better about being glued to my laptop all day. 🤣
I work from home, so have no commute spewing out pollution. Winner.
I donate money to an environmental charity monthly.
I try not to have too many cool techie gadgets that I won’t use.
I still have more work to do, but by educating myself on the environmental impact of tech I can make more informed choices. And hopefully, now, I am much less naive about the subject.