The Digital Water Cycle - when will the floods begin?
When we discuss #Sustainability, we often talk about #FoodMiles and #Renewables. When I taught my Social Studies classes, I would often ask them to think about the #SupplyChain of the lunchbox items (Farming, Transporting, Selling, Shipping, Processing, Packaging etc). But whilst we are well-versed in discussing the hidden carbon footprint of our foods, we rarely give much consideration for our tech.
For a long time, we have championed digital solutions and cloud storage as "a great way to save paper", and saving trees (especially with deforestation continuing at pace around the world) is a worthy criteria. In a meeting just last year, a Microsoft employee rejoiced telling me how M365 had saved a school so much paper, that, if stacked it would be the equivalent height as London's Shard building. Little was said of the need for energy hungry servers to store all that data - the cloud is a clever label, because we rarely think of 'clouds' as sinister. (Although I still remember the genuine panic around Acid Rain in the late 1980s and have failed to fully trust any human-cloud interactions ever since.)
The Guardian reported on the increase in digital waste back in 2010, and after outlining the issues back then, they asked the question: "Just how much server space will humanity need in 2050?"
Worryingly, researchers at Lancaster University estimated in 2021 that the cloud is responsible for between a quarter and 1.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, equating to at least 100 million tonnes per year. Similarly, Greenly (a Certified B Corp) calculated that someone storing one terabyte of information on the cloud using data storage is creating a carbon footprint equivalent to 2 tonnes annually. A terabyte just happens to be the allocated space available for our pupils and staff in schools via their Glow/M365 accounts.
If you're a school leader or IT lead, maybe you can take a look at the current set-up for your school to see if savings can be made. ComputerWeekly.com shared the following advice: "One of the most impactful ways an organisation can minimise the impact of its servers on the environment is to use green-powered datacentres, or to invest in greener technology. Microsoft is just one example, with the company increasing accessibility to serverless and open-source software in recent years to minimise the cooling processes and ventilation required in its datacentres. With regards to hosting, organisations should check that their service provider has a meaningful sustainability statement and policies around the use of green energy in datacentres as well as other facilities, alongside wider eco-credentials in energy efficiency. The best policies will have tangible, measurable commitments rather than vague statements. If your existing host isn’t ticking all the boxes, The Green Web Foundation has a directory of sustainable hosts."