Make a difference with data

It is near impossible today to ignore the impact that the human race is having on the planet. With high profile advocates for change like Sir David Attenborough spreading the message that more action needs to be taken to protect the environment before it is too late, the need to break old habits is unavoidable. But while there is lots of advice available for individuals – avoiding single-use plastics, for example – it is another story for businesses.  

Collectively, organisations around the world in every industry could make a huge difference to the environment by increasing their sustainability efforts. The technology industry in particular has a big part to play, as here more than anywhere can new and innovative solutions be rolled out to help solve the climate crisis. The crucial first step is understanding: how?

Global discussions to solve a global issue

The impact humans have on our planet – and how we as a collective can reduce this – is a topic that has been making headlines for several years. This has only been accelerated by the introduction of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015, which has provoked conversations ever since on how to meet its goals in the critical areas of importance: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership.  

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. The aim of the conversation was for the panel to discuss their thoughts on regulations and oversights in terms of data sustainability, and how established policies can help to meet much needed global standards. The insights gained from this can be considered by businesses of every type.

The pandemic’s unexpected environmental impact

This year has seen businesses across every sector disrupted due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. However, with this has been a surge of digital transformation to help companies and individuals alike to survive and thrive. With businesses quickly resorting to remote work models and individuals spending much more time indoors – due to global enforced lockdowns and now more commonly, local lockdowns – data usage has skyrocketed. In fact, global internet traffic surged by almost 40% between February and mid-April 2020, and it’s only set to continue.  

Unfortunately, this boost in internet traffic, as well as the resulting spike in data that is produced, is not positive news for the environment. It is therefore no wonder that data is being assimilated to the new oil. 

To make these efforts successful, businesses must understand the value of their data

For consumers, becoming more environmentally responsible with data is relatively straightforward. For example: you can research companies to understand their business practices in terms of carbon footprint, or even make an everyday choice such as SD over HD when streaming TV or downloading music. Furthermore, using apps such as The Green Web can help consumers quickly identify if a website is hosted ‘green’ or ‘grey’. 

For businesses, however, it’s not quite so clear how to reduce the environmental impact of data. 

Better decision making

Data is everywhere, and it’s used by businesses of every size and sector to keep driving forward and being successful. Because of this, it is necessary to increase awareness of ways companies can manage the carbon footprint of their data, as their data landscape grows.  

One of the most important ways is to reduce the huge volume of data that companies produce. Around 70% of data is made up of copies, many of which will be relatively unnecessary. A useful term to understand this data is ‘ROT’ – in other words: Redundant, Obsolete or Trivial data. It is data that is not vital for a business to operate normally. Much of this data will be stored in a secondary physical data centre which will use up energy 24/7 that is likely being produced by fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels releases harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and can cause serious damage to the environment.  

However, there are changes that can be made. Businesses can reduce the impact of this ROT data on the planet by reducing the amount of it that they produce. This can be achieved with effective, intelligent data management solutions that help IT departments focus on the lifecycle of their data right from the very edge of the corporate network all the way to the data centre.  

To make these efforts successful, 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? Businesses that identify the answers to these questions can then begin to reduce the data they produce and store and enable easy leveraging of sustainable clouds.

Building a greener world

Working to become more sustainable in business has never been more important. Our planet is our home, and as a global community we need to work together to care for it better. Many businesses are just embarking on their sustainability journeys, and though it will take time for changes to be seen, every step in the right direction is valuable. Data growth is unavoidable, so it’s high time businesses used it to have a positive impact on the environment.

Nigel Tozer is a keen technologist and has over 30 years experience working in the tech industry. He currently holds the role of Solutions Director EMEA at Commvault.

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