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Digital pollution: what is it and how to reduce it in your company?

Updated: Nov 20, 2023



Digital pollution is a phenomenon that concerns us all. Today, our planet has 7.83 billion inhabitants, 4.66 billion of whom are connected. That's 60% of the world's population that can exchange on the web.


Watching a video, saving your files on a drive, calling a friend by videoconference... And what if without knowing it, these daily gestures lead to an invisible but devastating pollution? Because if this technological progress brings us many advantages, it is not without consequences on the ecological level: greenhouse gases, chemical pollution, waste production...


This is what we call digital pollution, and we all participate in it, every day. But what is digital pollution in concrete terms? And above all, what actions can we take in our companies to reduce it? We explain it all to you.


What is digital pollution?


Digital pollution is not necessarily easy to perceive. It's not a cloud of fine particles gathering over our heads or a heavenly beach covered with plastic waste, yet it is present every day.


When you use your computer, your smartphone or any other connected object, you pollute. Digital pollution refers to all the negative impacts caused by new technologies on our environment. It mainly falls into 3 main categories: production, use and recycling.


1. The impact linked to production

It is during its production that an electronic device pollutes the most. It is estimated that 80% of digital pollution is linked to the manufacturing of the material. For example, a 2 kilo computer requires 22 kilos of chemicals, 240 kilos of fuel and 1.5 tons of clean water. And this is without counting the environmental damage and the human impact linked to working conditions, from mining to production plants.


2. The use

Unfortunately, digital pollution does not stop there. Using new technologies pollutes on a daily basis. Just when we thought it could be the key to ecological sustainability, for example by reducing our paper consumption, the opposite happens.


New technologies consume about 10% of the world's electricity, making it the 3rd largest consumer behind China and the United States. The use of these new technologies contributes to CO2 emissions. Approximately 4% of greenhouse gas emissions are due to digital technology. This is 1.5 times more than air transport.


3. The end of life of equipment

The majority of end-of-life electronic devices are exported to China, India or Africa where they are simply buried.


There are more than 70 materials in the composition of a cell phone: plastic, copper, lithium, glass, iron, gold, silver, platinum, palladium, but also what are called rare earths, europium, yttrium, terbium, gallium, tungsten, indium, tantalum... This complex composition, as well as the way they are designed, makes these devices very difficult to recycle.


For example, a 2013 UN report estimated that 75% of electronic waste escapes recycling.

digital-pollution-key-figures

Email: an example of pollution that is more important than we think


How to imagine that a simple email can pollute? Yet its use is not without consequences for the environment. An email with an attachment of 1 MB emits 19 g of CO2.


Of course, this is nothing compared to the 32.84 billion tons of CO2 produced each year. But more than 300 billion emails are sent every day throughout the world, including 1.4 billion in France alone. The worst part is that 75% of these emails are spam and 60% are never even opened.


The mailboxes are thus saturated with hundreds, sometimes even thousands of messages that pollute, because they are not read. They are stored in data centers that consume a lot of energy (1.5% of the world's electricity consumption) and emit CO2 (2% of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions).


It is of course possible to reduce the carbon footprint of its emails.


What should you do in your company to reduce digital pollution?


Lots of figures and information! But the most important thing to reduce digital pollution is to act! And it starts in the company.


Nowadays, most employees use a computer, a tablet, a smartphone, a printer, a photocopier... We must be aware of the impact of these devices and the way they pollute our environment, in order to adopt the right actions.


1. Clean up your emails

We told you, emails pollute more than we think. To limit your impact, send them sparingly. Avoid copying your entire department or sending unnecessary attachments.


Next, it is important to delete unnecessary emails, both read and unread. Sort out spam and newsletters. In addition to being ecological, you will gain clarity. The Cleanfox.io website allows you to unsubscribe from newsletters easily.


2. Be minimalist with technology

There are an estimated 30 billion connected objects today, and that number is growing by 20% every year. But do you really need that connected water bottle? Or that voice assistant to play music? Of course, technology can reduce our pollution, like the connected heating or lighting system. Just be aware that all of these devices consume energy daily, in addition to the pollution associated with manufacturing and recycling. Also, be sure to turn off these items when they are not in use.


You should also not replace electronic devices too often. According to the ADEME, going from 2 to 4 years of use for a tablet or a computer improves its environmental balance by 50%". Keep them as long as possible, have them repaired and give them a second life by reselling them or giving them to an association!


In the same way, it is not always necessary to buy a new object. Think of renting or second-hand products.


3. Store intelligently

Like email, data should be stored intelligently. There's no need to keep everything or store everything on the cloud. Store the data you use on a daily basis on your computer or on an external hard drive, to avoid going back and forth with the servers.


Either way, digital pollution is a topic of the future for businesses. CSR is becoming more and more important and our society is evolving from a system based on performance to a system of global performance, including the impact on the environment.


73% of French people are not aware of the notion of digital ecology. It is therefore important to raise awareness among your employees, by providing them with the necessary information, but also with solutions to fight against digital pollution.



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