What is Digital Sustainability?

What they think it is: Applications for smartphones and tablets on Sustainability in general.

What it really is: Sustainability Digital is a concept that defines studies, plans and practices aimed at replacing, by technology companies, polluting energies (mainly those that emit carbon dioxide) by renewable sources such as wind and solar.

It is not very common to think about it, but all kinds of online browsing (social networks, Netflix, e-mail, etc.) have something physical behind them: thousands and thousands of computer servers, responsible for storing the data that make up the internet. What feeds them, for the most part, is electricity from sources of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Everywhere, even in the cloud, we leave (dirty) digital footprints. But this is a brief explanation. The English newspaper The Guardian published a text in 2015 detailing this process, including with graphics (link in To know more).

Greenpeace's Clicking Clean: Who is Winning the Green to Build Green Internet survey estimates that the IT sector consumes approximately 7% of global electricity. In the 2014 version of this study, that number was 2 percent, which is the same percentage of the aircraft industry's electricity spending to think of (think of the huge number of Boeing-type airplanes flying every day).

The issue of Digital Sustainability has two focuses: the physical part, such as products and logistics, for example, and the digital part related to datacenters, infrastructure and others. In the last few years, with the exponential increase in the need for infrastructure for the operation of technological services, the attention has turned to the huge datacenters with huge demands for energy.

Who invented it: There is no inventor but Greenpeace is one of the organizations most committed to the issue and has challenged large IT companies to renew their sources.

When it was invented: There is no specific date. The concept is directly related to exponential growth, a term used to define the ultra-accelerated speed with which technologies have evolved in the last decades and the effect they cause in society.

Greenpeace began to compare the energy performance of the IT industry in 2009.

What it does: To preserve the non-renewable energies of the planet and minimize (or even avoid) the impact of climate change as global temperature increases.

Among some advantages of using renewable energy are the fact that they cause less environmental impact, are inexhaustible in relation the human scale and offer fewer risks to workers' health. 

Who uses: Facebook, Apple and Google were the first to make commitments to transform 100% of their energy source into renewable.

Pereira says that Apple has included in its new campus design an energy self-sufficiency guideline. The entire roof of the complex is made of solar panels and rainwater is captured, making the complex 100% solar-powered. This helps in the creation of low carbon business processes, one of the important indicators when it comes to Digital Sustainability. 

The Greenpeace study cited nearly 20 companies, including Adobe, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Etsy, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Microsoft, are engaged in replacing their energy sources.

Side effects: In the short term, the need for investment in the transformation of infrastructure. But the costs of renewable energy have been drastically reduced in recent years, reaching a degree of competitiveness compared to other sources. 

Who is against: Companies that profit from waste are against Digital Sustainability. That's because they do not care about the environment and are focused only on advantages for themselves.

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