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Companies want and need to become more sustainable. Against this backdrop, all companies that will become more digital in the future or already use a lot of IT must also consider the environmental impact of their IT. This primarily involves major decisions such as procurement, architecture, operating models and obsolescence avoidance. However, companies also have a relevant influence on the sustainability of their IT during the utilisation phase. Relevant recommendations for action for users on this topic are as diverse as the application scenarios themselves. This is why generic guidelines are never completely appropriate for every company. However, from different project contexts at our customers and our own work at adesso, we have recognised certain regularities that we would like to recommend in this blog post.

The result is 10 recommendations for end users for the sustainable use of digital tools.

1. data economy

Effective data management is the first step towards sustainable IT. Regularly cleaning up unnecessary data by deleting old files, uninstalling unused applications and organising the email inbox reduces digital clutter. This leads to more efficient storage utilisation and lower energy consumption for data management processes. Every file stored on a server requires energy for storage and backup. Added to this are the resources required for backups, synchronisation and the ecological production costs of the hardware. Therefore, deleting unnecessary data contributes directly to reducing energy consumption. Not only classic files, but also digital resources such as Jira and Confluence Spaces, Menti surveys, Notion pages and Teams channels should be cleaned up regularly.

2. email usage

Emails are an indispensable part of modern working life, but they can cause a considerable server load. A few more concrete figures on this can be found in this blog post on Green IT in everyday life. Data traffic can be reduced by unsubscribing from newsletters that are no longer read and carefully selecting recipient groups. In addition, attachments should be compressed where possible or alternative file sharing tools - such as OneDrive or Dropbox - should be used to further reduce data traffic. By minimising unnecessary data transfer in the form of emails, spam filters need to be less active and the digital infrastructure, from the client to the networks to the server, requires fewer resources.

3. energy saving with devices

Devices should be switched off instead of being left in standby mode overnight, for example. This obvious difference between the ideal situation and reality is often ridiculed as an empty phrase. However, the ecological efficiency is high, as the power consumption of the appliance is not offset by any benefit in standby mode. This is exemplified by the fact that the electrical power consumption of a laptop in standby mode can be equivalent to that of a charging smartphone. Companies that really want to make a contribution to achieving global sustainability goals should therefore regularly remind their employees of the relevance of these measures.

4. hardware maintenance

Extending the lifespan of devices and promoting reuse are essential measures for reducing electronic waste. Protective covers help to protect devices from damage and stickers that are difficult to remove should be avoided. This prolongs the usability of devices and reduces the need for remanufacturing, which has a significant impact on the environment. Defective devices should be repaired rather than immediately replaced, and old hardware should be responsibly donated or recycled. Secondary use is particularly important here: devices are easier to sell in refurbishment if they are well maintained.

5. technology selection

Sustainable options among digital tools should be favoured, taking into account factors such as resource consumption and environmental impact. Choosing environmentally friendly tools encourages the development and adoption of sustainable technologies in the digital landscape. Manufacturers' environmental standards should be checked and products made with low energy consumption and recyclable materials should be chosen. New comparisons for the sustainability of common digital tools can be found regularly on the Greenspector blog - as shown in Figure 1. In addition, the transparency and self-commitment of providers should also be taken into account as a selection criterion.


Figure 1: As the comparison shows, even with supposedly undifferentiated products such as video conferencing tools, the emissions for one minute of conversation can vary greatly, source: https://greenspector.com/en/videoconferencing-apps-2022/

6. single use data

Resource consumption can be minimised by reusing existing digital content and resources whenever possible. Content reuse reduces the need to create new data, thereby conserving resources and reducing the energy consumption associated with content creation. Existing presentations or documents should be utilised and content shared across the network to reduce the need for duplication of effort. For example, AI-generated images for presentations can be used multiple times instead of creating new ones for each presentation.

7. problem adequacy

More complex solutions always require more resources. Digital tools should therefore be selected carefully and only used as required to avoid unnecessary resource consumption. Not every search query has to run directly through an AI tool and not everyone needs an ‘all-in-one productivity platform’ for their everyday notes.

8. configuration

Energy consumption can be minimised by configuring devices and software solutions with energy-efficient settings and deactivating unnecessary functions. Optimised settings reduce power consumption and extend battery life, resulting in lower energy consumption over the entire life of the device. The brightness of the screen should be adjusted, automatic updates and background processes that are not required should be deactivated and the device's energy-saving mode should be utilised. Using dark mode and adjusting the resolution of videos can also help to reduce energy consumption. For mobile devices, it is also advisable to transfer large amounts of data via stable Wi-Fi connections rather than unstable mobile networks.

9. Battery management

Charging devices with batteries should be done at times when there is plenty of renewable energy available. Charging during peak times of renewable energy reduces dependence on fossil fuel sources and thus contributes to a greener energy grid. Peak times for solar or wind energy in the region should be taken into account and charging habits adjusted accordingly. Corresponding information can easily be found in the browser at 50hertz - as shown in Figure 2, as a smartphone widget at StromGedacht, or as a MacOS widget from miasma.


Figure 2: The eco2grid app from 50hertz even provides forecasts for the future availability of renewable energies, source: https://eco2grid.50hertz.com/zone/DE_LU

10. raising awareness

If you want to develop your impact beyond your own actions, you should first inform yourself further. These guidelines primarily address the obvious and well-understood aspects. At the same time, there are many other important fields of action, such as offline use, the use of ad blockers or decisions in hardware procurement, which are not yet taken into account here. Anyone who has developed a good intuition for the influencing factors that determine the sustainability of our digital lives can also support others in doing so. Increased awareness leads to more mindful digital habits and promotes sustainable behaviour in the digital world. Knowledge and experience can be shared with colleagues, friends and family to encourage them to adopt sustainable digital practices. The free "The Digital Collage" workshop, for example, is a good way to deepen your knowledge.

Practice

Companies today are constantly looking for new ways to achieve their sustainability goals. The aforementioned measures for digital sustainability may be considered common sense, but they are rarely actually implemented in companies. Without appropriate training and continuous awareness programmes, these practices will not be implemented and perpetuated "on their own". At company level, such a transformation process of behaviour must be accompanied by strategic initiatives. Success must be made measurable with KPIs, and implementation must not just be seen as a nice-to-have project on the side. Change management is required in order to successfully implement a green IT initiative.

Outlook

Digital sustainability is not just a trend, but a necessity in an increasingly networked world. By implementing the above guidelines, everyone can help to reduce the environmental footprint of digital activities and create a greener future. Especially with the increasing adaptation of AI tools and the growing intensity of use of IT solutions in our everyday lives, environmentally conscious use will increasingly come into focus. We want to use IT and benefit from it, but we must do so sensibly and sensibly so as not to jeopardise the preservation of an environment worth living in.

You can find out more about exciting topics from the world of adesso in our previous blog posts.

Picture Yelle Lieder

Author Yelle Lieder

Yelle Lieder is Green IT Lead at adesso. As part of the CIO Advisory Competence Centre, he focuses on strategies for measuring and reducing the environmental impact of IT systems and on the use of technology to achieve sustainability goals.

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