Due to the massive increase in data transmission relating to the use of digital devices and services, energy consumption at data centres has surged in recent years. The volume of transmitted data has increased by a factor of 10 in the last decade. Efficient planning of data centres and good capacity utilisation are therefore key entry points for climate change mitigation through digitalisation, as Carl-Otto Gensch explains in the new episode of the Oeko-Institut’s “All change please!” podcast. The Oeko-Institut has developed the green cloud computing methodology in order to standardise energy audits; it provides indicators for identifying efficient and low-carbon cloud services.
According to Carl-Otto Gensch, who heads the Oeko-Institut’s Sustainable Products & Material Flows Division, more targeted use of the opportunities afforded by digitalisation is essential for effective climate action. However, a major risk is that the rebound effect will come into play – in other words, if devices become ever more efficient and consume less energy, but their performance improves and consumers purchase more devices overall. This drives up total energy and resource demand. He emphasises that new technologies should be designed specifically to achieve sustainability goals.
The personal digital footprint
Mobile phones, laptops, video streaming, etc. – digital devices, particularly their procurement and use, produce climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases are emitted during the manufacturing, use and disposal of the devices and are also produced by the digital infrastructure. The extraction of the precious rare metals required to manufacture the devices also leaves a large ecological footprint. All this gives rise to a carbon footprint per person of around 850 kilograms CO2-equivalent emissions (CO2e) per year.
The example of video streaming shows that individual behaviour has an impact on the carbon footprint here. Streaming of videos and other content causes CO2-equivalent emissions (CO2e) of around 62 kg per person per year on average. Smaller monitors and lower resolution can reduce energy consumption. Carl-Otto Gensch therefore recommends using linear TV, among other things, in order to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Appraising AI for its environmental benefits
Energy and resource consumption from artificial intelligence (AI) can be very high. Here, intensive accompanying research continues to be required to ensure that environmental impacts are taken into account and minimised – especially since the research often lags several years behind market developments, as Carl-Otto Gensch explains. When supporting innovation, policy-makers should therefore establish frameworks which facilitate compliance with sustainability goals. Artificial intelligence should undergo environmental cost-benefit analyses and make verifiable contributions to sustainability goals.
Knowledge rather than everyday advice
The Oeko-Institut’s podcast “Wenden bitte!” – “All change please!” is aimed at listeners from politics, science, the media, NGOs and the general public – anyone with an interest in political and environmental issues. Co-presenters of the podcast are Nadine Kreutzer, journalist and presenter, and Mandy Schossig, Head of Public Relations & Communications at the Oeko-Institut. For about an hour – enough time for the “long haul of environmental podcasts” – they talk with one of the Oeko-Institut’s experts about upcoming transformations towards sustainability.