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The Good manager: Digital activities and their footprint

Most of us assume that digital is inherently green. That’s probably because we don’t see the processes behind digital activity. When we print out an email, read it, and then throw it away, we have a better sense of the energy used in printing, and the waste created when tossing the paper. Thus the rise of the paperless workplace, and the tech industry’s often smug sense of eco superiority.

What many of us don’t know is that digital processes use energy too — and a lot of it at that. The digital world isn’t as intangible and immaterial as it seems. Behind every digital interaction, there are computers, smartphones, copper, optical fibre cables, and thousands of data centres — all of which consume energy.

As of a report by GreenIT in 2019, there were 34 billion digital devices in the world, including 3.5 billion smartphones, and 3.1 billion display devices like televisions and computer screens. Behind these devices, there were 1.1 billion DSL/fibre routers, 10 million GSM relays and 200 million WAN and LAN equipment.

Responsible for hosting all of our data were just a few thousand data centres with 67 million hosted servers. And while that number may seem small relative to the number of digital devices and fibre optic cables, data centres still account for 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Needless to say, digital is a large contributor to humanity’s footprint on the environment. It accounts for:

• 4.2% of primary energy consumption
• 3.8% of greenhouse gas emissions
• 0.2% of water consumption
• 5.5% of electricity consumption
While those numbers may seem small, the way GreenIT puts it, if digital were a country, it would have 2 to 3 times the environmental footprint of France.

That’s where The Good Manager initiative comes in. This project targets bosses, managers, CEOs and other C-suite executives. We understand that digital is an integral part of virtually every company in the western world, and we know that many company executives care about the environment, but aren’t entirely sure how to implement good practices in their own enterprises.

To help company managers create a truly greener workplace, and to help their employees better understand the real environmental impact of digital, we have created a centralized database of good practices for accessibility and environmental impact reduction from countries around the world.

We focus primarily on accessibility and digital sobriety, but also on inclusion and social impact practices if they are innovative. The resulting set of good practices takes a B2B approach instead of a B2C approach, so we can focus on maximum implementation by companies worldwide.

By implementing good practices from The Good Manager database, managers can increase the awareness of their company’s digital eco-footprint, and approach sustainability in the office armed with the information they need to make an actual impact.

Banta, Rich. “How to Reduce Data Center Carbon Footprints.” Lifeline Data Centers, 4 Feb. 2021, lifelinedatacenters.com/data-center/reduce-data-center-carbon-footprints/.
Bordage, F. (2019, November). Environmental footprint of the digital world.

More about the project

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