Carbon neutral is the new paperless. Here is why.

Startups said it years ago, corporations said it yesterday, and even administrations claim:

“We are paperless.”

In other words:

“Look, we’re modern, we’re green — and finally digitalized.”

Fair enough. But we live in times where the demand for digital services such as cloud computing, streaming, or cashless payment systems is continuously growing. So this might not be adequate anymore.

Especially not if the energy used for our computing power is anything else but carbon neutral.

Here are some facts.

At present, the number of new Internet users is increasing daily by more than one million people. At the same time, a glimpse at an average website produces round about 4.61 grams of CO2. Even emails generate 4 grams of harmful carbon dioxide and 306 billion emails are sent daily. Not to talk about all the other nice digital services developers like me are building every day.

Summarized: It is expected that the carbon footprint of Internet applications will exceed that of the aviation industry in the next few years.

Holy crap — you might think.

Do I have to stop watching Netflix now the same way I stopped flying to every business meeting? Or even worse: Should I start faxing to my customers again instead of sharing my docs in the cloud?

Thankfully it’s neither of that. But we have to get some clarity about how people and companies think about digitization so far.

Let’s start with an apprehensive myth about digitalization when it comes to climate neutrality. It can’t be seen, so it must be clean.

This is a simple trap many users and companies fall into. Especially if they have never consciously thought about the technical side of the Internet. (And I cannot blame them for that)

Therefore, it is all the more important that developers, journalists, and Internet companies make people aware that online services have an extremely high impact on the environment — even if we cannot see, smell, or feel it. For example, the city of Frankfurt requires up to 20% of its total public energy to supply data centers. That is more energy than the city’s airport consumes.

We can see that the internet depends on servers and data centers all around the globe. And this increasing computing power is hungry for endless amounts of energy. Unfortunately, most of it is generated by burning coal, gas, and oil, releasing large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. This means that we cannot just rely on digitalizing services to reduce our carbon footprints.

But what is the solution if we stay online — tomorrow more than ever?

I would say the following:

Global computing power must become carbon neutral. ASAP.

We can do that. And everyone can be a part of it.

This is how:

  1. Information: First of all, everyone must be aware of their digital impact on the environment. And why? Because only then one can decide whether he or she wants to be part of the solution or not. When the answer is yes, then — in the next step — people need to be informed precisely about how they can reduce their footprint. I know from experience that many want to do this. But only a few know decent ways to do so.
  2. Digital Action: Developers are the architects of the Internet — and many of them know what is going on. Therefore they have to set new standards in software development. By implementing energy-saving concepts in the DNA of software and consistently streamlining it. And even more: I predict that this topic will become a whole industry within the next few years. Companies like the www.webneutralproject.com and many more are the pioneers of a rethought self-conception of us onliners.
  3. Data-centers powered by renewable energy: I admit that this is a long-term global project, but we have to tackle it. While digital technologies are responsible for as much as 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, only 4.5% of global energy comes from renewable sources. We need to ensure that there will be a massive market demand for climate-neutral computing power in the future, so the carbon neutrality of the Internet will be put on the political agenda.

(FYI: We are currently teaming up with visionary projects to offer 100% carbon neutral software solutions to our clients. So stay tuned.)

We see that paperlessness or complete digitalization is not an argument for calling a company sustainable. Awareness, digital action, and carbon-neutral computing power are the next logical moves towards a greener economy on the digital side of things.

The whole subject is, of course, much more complex than outlined in this article. But for me, this is a personal starting point. A starting point to become aware of my impact on the global environment and to lead my company as a developer into a more sustainable future — for all of us.

As always, the first step we can take is to self reflect our own actions — especially when telling others what they can do.

That’s why I can tell you that researching and writing this article had set free approximately 1.45 Kilograms of CO2. Maybe more.

What are you keen to learn about your digital carbon footprint?

Let me know in the comments.

#digitalaction #codeforclimate

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.