Reducing energy waste in digital

Using more and more energy does not lead to more happiness. After a certain point there are diminishing returns. In fact, too much energy leads to obesity in the body and overload in the mind.

“The drastic increases in societies’ energy use seen in recent decades have, beyond a certain point, had no benefit for the well-being of their populations – social returns on energy consumption per capita become increasingly marginal,” a 2020 report entitled “Providing decent living with minimum energy” stated.

The authors predict that by 2050 the entire human population could have decent living standards with energy requirements that are 60% lower than what we use today.

How could that possibly be?


"Throwaway Living” was the title of a LIFE magazine feature published in 1955. “The future of plastics is in the trash can,” the editor of Modern Packaging magazine, Lloyd Stouffer, stated during that decade. By the 1950s the ideas driving planned obsolescence were already twenty years old. The deliberate shortening of the lifespan of a product to force consumers to purchase replacements is today standard practice for Apple, Samsung et al.

Waste is the prime business model of today. The more waste, and the less that waste is recycled, the more short-term profits will be made. Fixing, maintaining and recycling are not profit-maximizing activities. In our modern economy, designers take pride in building things that break. The PR and marketing propaganda babble is about change and innovation. How you need an 8K resolution screen even though you can’t see the difference.

We can have healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives if we address our economies of waste. Every day, we must work on training our minds to think longer term and to think from an earth experience perspective. To think about how we can create things that last, whether that is content or code or whatever. Short-term thinking is killing life on earth. Long-term thinking can help save it.

Hold on to things as long as possible. According to a report by the UK Green Alliance, “If a phone is kept in use for at least five years, instead of the typical two to three years, the carbon impact per year of use could be cut by 50 per cent and the water impact could be halved.”

Question all the data your organization is collecting. I had a great chat with Tom Greenwood from Wholegrain Digital, who was telling me of his belief that 90% of websites don’t need tracking and analytics. Totally agree. Most tracking and analytics is a pointless charade. It serves no useful purpose other than to give people useless work so as to generate busyness and production.

Just because we can buy new devices doesn’t mean we should. Just because we can create and collect more data doesn’t mean we should.

Digital is not green. It is in fact the secret accelerator of global warming. We must have a radical rethink about how we use digital technology. And it begins by addressing digital waste.

Designing for a circular economy

Providing decent living with minimum energy: A global scenario