Universities and colleges need to develop a strong understanding of the energy usage of their digital technology, according to a new report by Jisc.
In Exploring digital carbon footprints, the membership organisation for technology in the sector highlights how several aspects of how using technology can add to carbon emissions and makes a series of recommendations to reduce the impact.
These include building better understanding of the differences in the power consumption of workstations when using video conferencing with and without video by using plug-in smart sockets or energy meters. Among the technical points highlighted is that making a call in HD video is always more carbon intensive than SD, and audio is just a fraction of that.
Along with this is a need to monitor, measure and communicate the differences in energy usage between buildings, departments or laboratories, and to carry out audits of data held on-premise and in the cloud to identify how much is unnecessary and can be eliminated. The latter point reflects the estimate that every 100 GB of data stored in the cloud could generate 0.2 tonnes of carbon emissions per year, yet 90% of it is stored and never used again.
There should also be efforts to encourage the use of Wi-Fi across campus and remotely, to turn off devices rather than place them on ‘stand by’, and to communicate the carbon impact of using social media, encouraging people to reduce their screen time.
In addition, the report says IT managers can achieve quick wins in on-premise data centres by focusing on airflow to stabilise their operations, and investing in strategic technologies to measure and minimise the impact of each virtual machine.
There is also scope for gains through the adoption of best practice in procurement, including the use of the Higher Education Supply Chain Emissions Tool.
Robin Ghurbhurun, Jisc’s managing director of further education, skills and member support, who also has responsibility for its sustainability agenda, said: “The increasing use of digital technology in education has many benefits, but it’s important that we recognise and try to mitigate its contribution to climate change. Every email, video call and social media post, every piece of content we download, and all the time we work or study on our devices, adds to the world’s carbon load.
“It’s our responsibility to reduce the impact on the environment as individuals and collectively through the organisations where we work and study.
“Not least because of pressure from students – the first generation that has grown up with the climate crisis – the issue has become a strategic priority for colleges and universities. Many already have sustainability plans in place, with measures and targets; but others are less advanced on that journey and need support.
“My hope is that Jisc’s new report will help inform and steer colleges and universities towards delivering a cleaner, greener environment for staff, students and their wider communities.”