Climate protection concepts (2): The conscious handling of digital data

Climate protection concepts (2): The conscious handling of digital data

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us were reluctant to come to terms with its impact on our everyday lives. Yet, the evidence of change was there before our very eyes, with borders closed, curfews issued, and passenger air traffic coming to a standstill. For the most part, it also seemed that many people besides frontline workers stayed at home and overstocked on canned foods and toilet paper - better safe than sorry, as the saying goes.

In light of all of this, one would think the resulting significant reduction in traffic would have had an enormous impact on our planet’s climate. After all, the media reported good news: lower numbers in terms of CO₂ emissions, “clean” air over Italy, less smog over large Chinese cities. One landmark study estimated that CO₂ emissions would fall by as much as 7% by the end of 2020. However, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization, the pandemic “did not curb record levels of greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere by the end of the year. Despite the rising curve being jagged, none the less it continued to rise. No wonder, when you consider that, because of the coronavirus - according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - the Federal Republic of Germany alone has barely achieved its climate targets for 2020. This shows once again that the effects on climate can no longer be blamed exclusively on transport or industrial production processes, even if they make up a large part of them. As always, it helps to reflect on ourselves and to question our personal behaviour. When we consider the ever-increasing volume of energy consumption within our society, we should ask: What of our personal use of energy resources?

The use of smartphones and digital applications - a climate sin?

The use of digital applications remains omnipresent in our daily lives - not only during the Covid-19 pandemic but also before and after it. And for us as individuals, it doesn’t initially seem as if we would leave a significant ecological footprint. Some would argue: “I always own a smartphone like this for quite a while, I added green electricity at a monthly surcharge, and I use solar power banks for fast charging - this is environmentally friendly after all.” While this is exemplary, it merits a closer look: Our digital lifestyle is dominated by the intensive use of smartphones and the associated energy consumption they incur, along with their impact on our climate. And while devices get ever smaller, the Cloud offers even more storage space, and the internet creates access to data and enables all kinds of comfort – many people don’t realise just how much energy is required for all these activities. So it gives us pause for serious thought when we learn that approximately 3.7% global greenhouse gas emissions is the global CO₂ footprint resulting from the internet, electronic devices, and digital applications – and that this is comparable to the emissions globally produced by the airline industry.

So, as individuals, let’s consider our daily use of electronics: The storage of around 100 photos on a smartphone in the Cloud corresponds to a similar ecological footprint as that of an 11.5 km train journey, and the backup of a one-hour video in the Cloud corresponds to a long-distance bus journey of 80-100 km. Therefore, climate pollution is also consequence of our digital behaviours, even though we may not be conscious of the connection between our use and its impact on climate.

One solution: Smart data usage through the “CO₂free” app

It stands to reason that if each of us handles our digital data and habits smartly and sustainably, every one of us can do our part to help reduce our current energy consumption – and without completely renouncing digital devices (which of course would be difficult for most as they’re a core part of our daily lives both personally and professionally).

This is precisely where the “CO₂free” app comes in: the application systematically analyses how much CO₂ emissions the smartphone in question causes and then tries to reduce this amount. The app primarily wants to clarify and inform its user where data can be deleted and offers the option of deleting it directly via the application. Doing so creates a double benefit: the device’s energy consumption decreases, while Cloud services and data centres are less stressed, and the environment is, therefore, less polluted. Users also have the option of offsetting the emissions caused by the remaining data. Moreover, vouchers are issued through a collection system of “Leaves” to create a further incentive.


By focusing on this topic, we will better appreciate that, despite some types of energy use declining in various areas of the economy, it’s also exponentially increasing when it comes to digital products. Therefore, we as consumers must be conscious of this as well. We must also consider that many consumers replace devices after a short period of time because of always wanting to have the latest and most fashionable phone/brand model available. Therefore, it’s essential we adopt a holistic view and look at the interconnectedness of global business and our relationships with it. Total responsibility cannot be shifted solely to the respective companies that produce the goods. After all, our individual use of them is also a decisive factor, which we, the end-users, determine. Recognising our lives have become much more comfortable due to digitalisation also requires us to be responsibly aware of the enormous amounts of energy consumed in manufacturing and using them.

With all the great opportunities that digitalisation offers us, we must not forget our personal responsibility: The reduction of CO₂ emissions depends on change at the individual level for each of us as consumers, alongside global efforts by business, industry, transport, and governments: Everything is dependent on one another. Let’s, therefore, create new opportunities, develop better processes, and consider the future responsibly - because even if we only start on a small scale, we will each be doing our part to make the world a better place.

Disclaimer: The “CO₂free” app described above is one I support and endorse as an investor. It’s readily available in every app store and can be used quickly and easily.

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