When Callum Agnew (APAC Director) attended the Singapore Cloud & Datacenter Convention in July, he noted a recurring theme: data waste. Although we are all generating data waste, few of us are aware of the problem it is creating, and even fewer are taking action to reduce it.
Data waste is a problem because of the energy needed to transmit and store the data and the associated carbon emissions that this creates. It could be waste due to duplicate emails and documents, outdated information we haven’t deleted, unnecessary communications or poor data management practices.
The figures regarding data generation are mind-boggling: 2.5 quintillion bytes daily¹, which is the equivalent of around 2.5 billion Gigabytes (GB). Experts suggest² that digital technologies create 4% of overall greenhouse gas emissions, a percentage that will double by 2025. One survey³ showed that over 30% of a company’s data is redundant, obsolete or trivial.
Although the data centre industry is working hard to reduce carbon emissions due to data storage, for instance, by making equipment more energy efficient and locating data centres close to renewable energy sources, the transition to net zero carbon data storage cannot happen overnight.
In the meantime, individuals and organisations could make some changes – and lower their carbon footprints simultaneously. Here are a few ideas:
- How many emails are in your inbox? Although some service providers offer auto-delete and prompt to unsubscribe, think how much data storage we could save if we were more proactive.
- Attaching a document to an email may seem like an easy, even thoughtful, way to send information to a colleague, but using a link to a shared file would be less wasteful. And it’s also worth asking whether all those people need to be cc’d in.
- Photos and videos take up much storage. Do you need six versions of that group photo, the video of your new bike or the sixteen conference slide shots you took back in 2020?
- Deleting unused apps on your phone isn’t just about freeing up personal storage space. Depending on what information you permitted that app to collect – such as location data – you could add to storage requirements without knowing it.
- It’s challenging to know what data is waste if you don’t know what or where all your data is. A first step in reducing organisational data waste would be to create an inventory of all data, how it is used and by whom and its location.
- Create a data retention policy that identifies what data should be retained, how long it should be retained, and when to delete it. The approach could also define a way to categorise data so it can be easily accessed later.
- Avoiding duplication saves on storage and reduces the likelihood of multiple document versions being stored in different locations. By grouping information and keeping all the data from that group in one place, duplication can be avoided.
- Act on all of the above – which requires adequate resource allocation.
Where will all this data creation and data waste end? Although we often think of digitalisation and digital technologies as enablers to reduce waste and improve our commercial, environmental and social performance, there are costs and benefits to weigh up. Training an artificial intelligence (AI) model or using the Internet of Things (IoT) creates vast amounts of data that must be stored.
Changes could come from governments through new laws aimed at controlling the generation of data and its storage through cultural changes. It is undoubtedly something we all need to consider, both professionally and personally.
- How Much Data do we Create Every Day? The Mind-Blowing Stats Everyone Should Read – Forbes.com
- Data Waste – Harvard International Law Journal
- Veritas Global Databerg Report Finds 85% of Stored Data is Either Dark or Redundant, Obsolete, or Trivial (ROT) – Veritas.com