Digital Sustainability Toolbox

February 21, 2024

Reading time: 3 minutes

Digital Sustainability Toolbox
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How to reduce your digital footprint: online life

Servers and data centres consume significant amounts of energy in the process of transmitting and storing emails, messages, and files. To reduce emissions:

  • Get in the habit of sending less online messages and deleting your emails and messages.
  • Optimize and limit the amount of digital files, photos, videos, and other multimedia assets you store. Schedule “delete days” where you clean your online spaces.
  • Use links to online files in emails instead of attaching documents. Bonus: not using attachments will help your email deliverability rates.
  • Only download files/apps that you truly need and will use. Only upload files that are required. Keep only one copy of those files and send a link for access.
  • Optimize your streaming. For creators: use LED lights, energy efficient equipment, and the lowest resolutions possible (most streams do not need to be in 4K). For consumers: watch on energy efficient devices and turn off streaming when not watching.

How to reduce your digital footprint: websites

If you have/run a website:

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  • Check whether your domain provider and/or web host have sustainability policies. If there is a parent company, do they have sustainability policies and procedures in place?
  • Check where the servers are located and whether they run off renewable or nonrenewable energy sources.
  • Be careful of “greenwashing” when evaluating companies.
  • Always optimize your website images and PDFs. The smaller the file size, the less energy they use, and the faster they load. Use software or plugins that can do this automatically for you.
  • Try not to use PDFs. Make the document a web page instead. Web pages are generally less resource intensive and more accessible than PDFs.

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How to reduce your digital footprint: AI and Machine Learning

Reduce emissions emitted from training ML models by using some of these steps*:

  • Run your computing needs when renewable energy is in supply.
  • Report your training time and computational resources to allow for cross model comparisons to perform cost-benefit analyses (cost in terms of CO2 emissions).

*This list is not exhaustive and should be considered as a suggested starting point. The list focuses primarily on the footprint of training a ML model. Suggestions to reduce emissions during the application phase of ML models not captured here.

**We do not attest to the accuracy of these tools.

How to reduce your digital footprint: hardware and e-waste

When electronics go to landfill, toxic substances (e.g. lead, mercury) can leach into soil and water.

Electronics contain metals and minerals, these non-renewable resources must be extracted if not recycled.

Often e-waste is exported to countries where labour laws don’t protect those processing e-waste.

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  • Ville de Montreal Eco-Centres.
  • Avoid e-waste: Postpone upgrading, encourage reuse, choose refurbished, prolong battery and device life.
electrobac recycling box with icons for electrical objects that can be recycled there.

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Sustainability: data privacy and social media

Sustainable online practices include protecting privacy and data access:

  • Always check the privacy and security settings for the apps you use. You will be surprised what you find sometimes.
  • Turn off location services permanently or select the option to use only when the app is active (this helps for security and energy saving.)
  • Check the audience for your posts. Do you want them to be public? Private? Limited audience? Indexable by search engines? Make sure you choose the appropriate options for your needs.
  • Check whether an app uses encrypted chats / “DMs” or not. Encrypted messages are better for data privacy. Although nothing you put online is ever truly “private.”
  • Understand that there are strict data privacy laws in place in Quebec, Canada, and around the world. You are obliged to comply with these laws. Learn what they are.

Sustainability: checklist for digital sustainable solutions

To build more inclusive digital solutions and help avoid unintended consequences:

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  • Build trust amongst all actors involved, foster shared values.
  • Build education and capacity around digital innovation and sustainability through solutions that are needs-based and contextualized.
  • Empower local leadership, equal access and community participation for digital solutions*.

*Source: Detroit Digital Justice Coalition.

Examples of digital projects for sustainability

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Explore over 350 examples of globally diverse projects leveraging digital tools for sustainability.

Education for Digital Sustainability

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Leadership in Environmental and Digital innovation for Sustainability (LEADS).

Download the Digital Sustainability Toolbox as a PDF >