Deleting old data

One way to lower your carbon footprint and reduce your consumption of Earth’s resources is to delete emails and social media posts you no longer need. Additionally, if you sync your computer, tablet or phone to a cloud storage service, you can help by deleting unneeded documents and pictures.

This might sound strange, because digital files are the epitome of intangible assets — they don’t really exist, right? On the contrary, the hard drives that store our data are very real, and indeed finite. Each of the literally millions of hard drives in data centres around the globe comprises a few hundred grams of various metals and plastics. The more information we keep, the more drives must be manufactured — along with storage appliances to control them, servers to access those appliances, air conditioners to cool the servers and, ultimately, buildings to house all this stuff.

Hold on, there’s more! Each drive must remain online twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, just in case someone wants to access its files. While you might shut down your PC at night to save energy, Gmail doesn’t know you’re never going to read those 5,000 messages from a mailing list you joined by mistake in 2007. Facebook doesn’t know that the chance of any of your friends rewatching that video of your dog from 2012 is almost zero. So the hard drives are powered on, ready and waiting, just in case.

On the face of it, ‘the cloud’ sounds quite harmless; and its benefits are, for the most part, unquestionable. But the data centres, IT equipment and cooling systems that actually comprise this seemingly invisible wonder are increasingly harming our environment. By deleting emails and social media posts you don’t need, you can play your part in mitigating the damage. Unsubscribe from mailing lists you never read. Pick out your best photos from past events, and delete the rest. Have a spring clean, and feel good about it.