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Researchers Create CO2 Measurement Tool To Calculate Emissions Caused by Digital Data

An illustration of clouds in the shape of the letters CO2
Credit: Matthias Heyde / Unsplash.
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  • By 2025, it is estimated that the global data will surpass 180 zettabytes
  • The amount of digital data is doubling every two years
  • A typical data-driven business employing 100 full-time employees will generate approximately 2,203 tons of CO2 emissions annually due to new data, which is equivalent to a cost of $28,267 for nature-based carbon offsetting
  • The inclusion of the data CO2 footprint is a crucial factor missing from global decarbonisation policies
  • Data centres are responsible for 2.5% to 3.7% of all human-induced carbon dioxide. More than the aviation industry (2.1%)

A unique carbon footprint tool has been created to allow businesses to measure the CO2 output of their digital data.


Each day, the average person creates 10 DVDs-worth of data via their phones, fitness trackers, emails – anything which uses ones and zeros to process information.


All these bytes are collected and processed by companies and stored at various data centres around the globe. By 2025, there will be an estimated 180 zettabytes of stored data - the equivalent of 6.8 billion years of continuous Netflix streaming.


By using the tool, believed to be the first of its kind, companies can make data-driven decisions that benefit the environment and save money by reducing reliance on carbon offsetting schemes.

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Professor Ian Hodgkinson of Loughborough Business School said: “In the push towards net zero, digital technologies have played, and continue to play, a critical role, but we must also be cognisant of the hidden data CO2 cost attached to the way society and organisations use digital technologies.


“Identifying and measuring the data CO2 footprint is essential for future decarbonisation strategies."


His colleague Professor Tom Jackson added: "We are excited to announce the launch of the world's first publicly available tool empowering organisations to assess the environmental impact of their data projects.


“With this tool, organisations can determine the carbon footprint of their data-related activities and explore better data approaches to reduce their data carbon footprint while driving down carbon emissions.


“By using this tool, organisations can make informed decisions to minimise their environmental impact while still achieving their business objectives."


Recognizing the significance of digital decarbonisation, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Observatory for Public Sector Innovation (OECD-OPSI) have identified Jackson and Hodgkinson's work as a critical focus for accelerating the path to net-zero.


More info on digital decarbonisation can be found here.


Reference: Jackson T, Richard Hodgkinson I. Is there a role for knowledge management in saving the planet from too much data? Knowl Manag Res Pract. 2023;21(3):427-435. doi: 10.1080/14778238.2023.2192580


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