Digital Decarbonisation – Improving your journey to Net Zero

Supporting boroughs to meet London’s net zero goals is a key theme of LOTI’s work and we invite you to consider how much the impact of digitisation is weighing down your net zero goals.

  • Is your day a cycle of Teams call after Teams call after Google Meets?
  • Too busy to clear your sent mail?
  • Blind to the likelihood that your organisation stores more digital copies of your corporate plan than your number of employees?

A study from 2021 estimates that one hour of videoconferencing emits 150-1,000 grams of carbon dioxide, requires 2-12 litres of water and demands a land area about the size of an iPad Mini. 

And the cost of politeness? “If each British adult would abstain from sending out a “Thank you” email, we would conserve more than 16,000 tons of CO2 per year – equal to 81,000 flights from London to Madrid.” says Anneli Ohvril, one of Digital Cleanup Day’s project leaders.

I became interested in the connection between good digital housekeeping and net zero ambitions recently, when I heard about an approach taken by Jaana Pinnick, Data and Information Governance Manager at the British Geological Survey (BGS) and Chair of the Information and Records Management Society (IRMS). As a dedicated Records Manager, Jaana has tailored her approach to her organisation’s goals and ambitions. Working with environmental scientists, she used figures to evidence the amount of CO2 created by emails, large attachments, virtual meetings, and long term data storage to encourage staff to improve their records management housekeeping and work on removing ROT (redundant, obsolete, trivial) data from their systems.

BGS and UKRI both have net zero aims and environmental sustainability strategies, so this approach seemed like a logical step forward.”

Digital decarbonisation

Tom Jackson, Professor of Information and Knowledge Management, and Ian R. Hodgkinson, Professor of Strategy, both at Loughborough University, coined the phrase ‘digital decarbonisation’ to help people recognise that while digitisation is not itself an environmental issue, there are huge environmental impacts that depend on how we use digital processes in daily workplace activities.

“…knowledge of the damaging impact digitalization may be having on the environment is still in its infancy. If businesses are to be proactive in their collective pursuit of net-zero, they must incorporate digital best-practices in any sustainability strategy.”

Some of our innovation projects are likely to increase our amounts of digital data, such as IoT sensors. Good digital housekeeping will free up time and space, and reduce energy use and CO2 emissions. Putting my Information Governance Manager hat on, it’ll also reduce the amount of work for responding to FOI (Freedom of Information) and Subject Access requests.

So what can you do?

  • Foster friendships with and between your Records Manager, Sustainability Champions and Digital team.
  • Consider data management and digital decarbonisation in your sustainability strategy.
  • Raise awareness among staff with simple communications about the positive impact of good records management and digital decarbonisation. Avoid logos for the sake of it and large attachments or you’ll be producing more CO2 !
  • Run digital decarbonisation days and harness campaigns like Digital Clean Up Day (16 March).
  • Set challenges – Jaana found that some teams became competitive about how much CO2 they could save. We suggest trialling this with your sustainability team.
  • Look at what your staff can achieve themselves before searching for an app to fix it for you. 
  • Set retention periods, and ideally automated retention and disposal processes, within any new or revised system. Do the same for projects.
  • Avoid ‘reply all’, and ‘thank you’ emails. Perhaps put a standard ‘thank you’ into your email signature instead.
  • Consider setting or reducing retention periods for emails, Teams chat etc.
  • Facilitate and encourage sharing live files rather than emailing copies.
  • Have your teams book regular time in their calendars for filing and deletion.

Most importantly, recognise that culture change is required and don’t get disheartened. While there will be quick wins, staff need time to undertake housekeeping, and team processes need to change to make this a continuous improvement approach and not a single burst.

Let us help you. Records managers can be a tenacious and motivated group of people. We’ll have you loving records management, even if it takes saving the planet to do it! 

Reading and sources

Victoria Blyth
15 March 2024 ·
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