How to reduce the carbon footprint of data one byte at a time

Chris Powell, chief marketing officer at Commvault, explores how organisation's can reduce the carbon footprint of data.

In 2018, Information Age spoke to Chris Powell, CMO at Commvault, about his trek to Antarctica with Robert Swan’s 2041 Foundation, and his taking part in the South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC). Powell explained the important role data has in the climate change narrative, and how organisations can use data to think ‘green’.

Now, two years later, Powell gives us an update on IT sustainability and how businesses can rewrite data’s traditional impact on the planet with intelligent data management.

Cooling down the planet: a hot topic

Reducing humankind’s impact on the environment, and exactly how to do this, has been increasingly up for discussion. This has only been accelerated by the conception of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015, which gained widespread coverage at the time, and has provoked conversations ever since. An example of one such conversation is the Berlin Global Goals House’s recent virtual panel discussion, ‘Data is the New Oil? And Other Thoughts’, which took place during the United Nations General Assembly.

Alongside myself, the panel was made up of spokespeople from WeTransfer, Microsoft and Forrester Research, and was moderated by Bennett Richardson, Vice President and General Manager at Protocol. During the conversation, the panel discussed their thoughts on regulations and oversights in terms of data sustainability, and how established policies can provide needed global standards.

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COVID-19: adding fuel to the fire

The global COVID-19 pandemic has made 2020 a year of disruption and subsequent transformation for businesses as well as individuals. Technology and data have played a leading role in this. With businesses quickly reverting to remote work models, and individuals spending a lot more time indoors, due to global enforced lockdowns, data usage has skyrocketed. In fact, internet traffic has grown 12-fold in 2020 and Forrester believes it is poised to grow more.

Unfortunately, this accelerated growth in internet traffic, as well as the subsequent spike in data created, comes with detriment to the environment. It is therefore no wonder that data is being assimilated to the new oil.

For consumers, the answer to being more environmentally responsible with data is more clear-cut. For example: they might research their chosen platform’s uses, investigate companies to understand their business practices in terms of carbon footprint, or even make an everyday choice such as SD over HD when streaming a TV series or downloading a playlist you plan to use multiple times. Furthermore, using apps such as The Green Web can help consumers quickly identify if a website is hosted ‘green’ or ‘grey’.

For businesses, however, working to reduce the environmental impact of data is slightly more complex.

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Making smart choices

It is clear that in our increasingly digitally driven world, data is essential in helping all businesses, of all sizes in all industries anywhere in the world, to achieve their goals. Because of this, it is time to raise awareness about ways companies can manage the carbon footprint of their data, as their data landscape grows.

One such way is to try to reduce the sheer amount of data that companies produce. The fact is that 70% of data is copied, a large proportion of which will be relatively unnecessary. A useful term to think about this percentage of data is ‘ROT’ — that is: Redundant, Obsolete or Trivial data. In other words, it is data that is not vital in a business’s everyday operations. The majority of data like this will be stored in a secondary physical data centre, which will rely on fossil fuels for their energy.

The burning of fossil fuels releases harmful greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and is ultimately damaging to the environment.

Businesses who want to reduce the impact of this ROT data on the planet must start with reducing its volume. Investing in effective, intelligent data management solutions can help IT departments focus on exactly how data is handled from the moment it is created — right from the very edge of the corporate network to the data centre. To ensure the strategy delivers, businesses must understand the value of their data: does it need to be retained, for instance, and if it does, how long for? Where should it be stored so it can be easily accessed and used? If it doesn’t need to be retained, what needs to happen to it?

Exploring these questions will help businesses to begin to reduce the data they need and enable easy leveraging of sustainable clouds.

Best (green) foot forward

The conversation about sustainable data is just starting. And while many companies are only just starting their journey, the interest and importance of this topic will only grow over the coming years. With greater pressure being placed on business, and individuals, to ‘do their bit’ and make sensible choices to ease the strain on the planet, now is as good a time as any for companies to start to reassess the impact of their data and think more green.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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IT Sustainability