This year’s Black Friday is expected to be the busiest on record because of Covid-19 and early discounts. 2020 has seen a 74% surge in online shopping as a result of global lockdowns. 45% of adults received more parcels during lockdown than ever before. Some sectors are booming - electronics, health & fitness, while others are struggling – fast-fashion retailers – Boohoo is offering up to 90% discounts. Work clothes have gone out of the window – I’ve been living in my gym gear since March.
So far, I’ve bought two online courses from Udemy for £9.99 each and spent a gift card I’ve been saving since the summer. I have a fake Xmas tree this year for the first time – my ‘realistic’ Narnia tree that should last 10-15 years.
I had a chat with our postie who said he can’t believe the amount of landfill.
Stuff is just piling up, it’s shocking. I can’t talk, I keep buying things on Amazon. But there’s just too much packaging on stuff. We need to make sure it’s biodegradable.
Reducing your digital footprint
Reducing physical crap is one thing, but what about our digital clutter? There’s a secret cause of global warming that we don’t talk about or think about much. It’s more insidious as it’s invisible. I’m lucky enough to work from home on a laptop but reading Gerry’s McGovern’s new book, World Wide Waste, has been a real eye-opener and made me think more about how I work and my digital footprint.
Digital is physical. Digital is not green. Digital costs the earth. Every time I download an email, I contribute to global warming. Every time I tweet, do a search, check a webpage, I create pollution. Digital is physical. Those data centres are not in the Cloud. They’re on land in massive physical buildings packed full of computers hungry for energy. It seems invisible. It seems cheap and free. It’s not. Digital costs the earth.
When I think back over a 25-year-plus career of working on the Web, the one overwhelming impression I have is the enormous quantities of digital waste I have come across. Rarely, if ever – and I include myself in this reckoning – did I hear any concern about reducing energy consumption, reducing the number of systems, devices and software, or reducing the vast quantities of useless data and content that organizations were creating at increasingly furious speeds.
Convincing people in the digital industry that what they do consumes energy is a challenge. We have a deep culture of ‘store it now in the Cloud and sort it out later.’ Because it’s invisible, we can’t see it and we don’t deal with it. To give you a feel for it, here are some stats on how many trees would need to be planted to offset a digital activity.
Thinking about Boohoo and their alleged poor working practices and low pay – we can’t have fast fashion without digital. We can’t create 24 seasons a year on pen and paper.
We buy three times as many clothes today as we used to and wear them half as long thanks to digital. Globally, every second, the equivalent of an entire garbage truck full of textiles is dumped or burned. Every second. Digital is the great facilitator, the great enabler, the great accelerator of waste.
In the last 40 years, our appetite for everything has exploded, much of it driven by digital technology. We have a culture of now, convenience, on-demand delivery. We upgrade our ‘old’ devices and make the most of ‘free’ downloads. We’ve created more data in the last two years than in all of history.
I can’t get my head around that.
So, how do we break our bad habits? I recycle my rubbish, but what about my digital crap? How can we be kinder to the environment?
The principles of Digital Earth Experience Design (to delete 90%)
The first principle is not to create that extra piece of code or content. This is a challenge if you have a paid newsletter and your job is to create digital content for clients. I don’t want to send more of the same and clutter up inboxes or add to your Zoom fatigue, so I’ve thought about doing old-skool text challenges instead.
According to Mike Berners Lee, sending an SMS message creates 285 times less waste than sending the same message by email. If you must create, reuse and recycle your content and designs.
Second is to make stuff that’s reusable – modular and open source so others can find it and use part of it. You need good metadata so that things are easy to find online.
Third is to minimize waste during reuse and creation. The less weight your design has, the less waste it’s creating. The less processing it requires, the less waste (developers, take note). Apparently, 80% of the total digital waste happens during the manufacture of the device - only 20% during use!
Fourth is to ‘delete 90%’ – the illusion of cheap storage has turned us into a nation of hoarders. We’re drowning in digital crap. Some shocking stats here:
- Up to 90% of data is not used three months after it is first stored according to TechTarget.
- Businesses only typically analyse around 10% of the information they collect, according to search tech specialist, Lucidworks.
My Dropbox is full of holiday snaps to be sorted that I’ve not looked at since. How many apps have I downloaded that I rarely or never use? Quite a few. Research by mobile intelligence firm, Quettra, found the average app loses 77% of users within the first three days of install, 90% within 30 days, 95% within the first 90 days.
All the time, expense and effort and energy that goes into creating an app that people are not using. The ‘free’ business model is causing huge problems because it’s based on waste. I use the apps I pay for – Peloton costs me £12.99 a month for unlimited online fitness classes. But I use it daily as I feel the benefits and my health is a priority.
Gerry says cheap storage combined with cheap processing power has made the world wide web the ‘world wide waste’. We live on the first page of search results on Google, so we don’t see the crap that’s lurking. Over 90% of pages on Google never get found! 😱
More people have been to the top of Mount Everest than have been to the 10th page of the search results.
Just did a quick search on ‘digital marketing’ - About 3,330,000,000 results (0.75 seconds) – who will look at them?
We need a mindset shift to long-term thinking.
Here’s my action plan
- Weekly dump of hard drive downloads, WhatsApp chats, photos, messages, cookies. My laptop & phone will run faster, and I’ll have more time and energy to focus if I’m not searching through piles of files.
- Content – reduce frequency. Create more evergreen content I can update, recycle and repurpose.
- Shorter Zoom meetings, only when essential. Phone calls over video. Texts – even better!
- Ask clients what data they are storing or collecting. Do they really need to track websites, data and analytics? What happens to that data?
- Make noise if I can’t get something fixed. Why should products be designed so they can’t be repaired or recycled? They should be built to last. Batteries shouldn’t be slowed down on ‘older’ smartphones. It’s standard practice and needs to change.
If a phone is kept in use for at least five years, instead of the typical two or three, the curb on impact of use could be cut by 50%, and the water impact could be halved. UK Green Alliance.
- Take my own bags to the supermarket, recycle old clothes, shoes and electronics
- Limit digital devices and hang on to them for longer. I have a reconditioned iPhone 8 on PAYG and a 2010 MacBook Pro – that’s it. No TV. The MacBook is heavy, but a minor inconvenience. I’m working from home most of the time anyway.
- Delete those old pics on Dropbox – keep a few that mean something to me. Think before I take a picture or download data – what do I need it for?
2020 has been about slowing down, being present, the reset, and enjoying the little things. This is something positive that’s come out of lockdown and I hope we learn from it when this is over.
Deleting your crap is boring and repetitive but it’s also a calming, meditative activity. Quietly satisfying. You’re helping yourself as well as the planet. Your devices will run faster. You’ll save time, feel less stressed, and think more clearly.
💻 Upcoming event
Digital waste audit webinar – December 3. Identifying digitally wasteful processes and activities that hinder sustainability. You’ll get some tips and recommendations on what you need to do to improve your set up.
🎧 Podcast - Shoptalk Show
World Wide Waste with Gerry McGovern – on the amount of energy used sending the bits and bytes around the internet, the cost of storage, new phones vs old phones, the scale of data, and how we can adjust our process and culture to make changes. We need to take digital design seriously.
📖 Business Book of the Week
Content Design by Sarah Richards
It’s a joy to read – slim, clear, minimalist, practical and playful. I love the monochrome design and font in different sizes. It explains what content design is – creating content that best serves the users’ needs (text, infographics, visuals, video or charts), why it matters, and how to do it through data research.
- The science of reading so you can create content that’s easy to read.
- The effects of typography on reading speed and comprehension.
- How to use images and working with a designer.
- Why writing on your own doesn’t always work. Top tips for pair writing for double brain power (set yourself a challenge!)
- How to do crits to spark ideas.
- How to make the internet more useful and enjoyable.
Whether you’re writing newsletters, blogs, books, or business writing, it will make you think about how to approach it in a way that puts your audience first. How to develop smart content to help you grow your business, gain loyal customers, and tell a good story. It will help you to create an amazing experience for your audience.
Essential reading for organisations big & small. Get your copy here.
In 2010, Sarah & her team took on the task of condensing 400 complicated GOV.uk websites into one single site focused on user needs. We now have a fantastic example of content design in action at GOV.uk. Every time I access my online account, I marvel at how easy it is to use – thank you. 🖤
Thanks for reading!
👋 Hi, I'm Nicci - a journalist and writer based in East Sussex, UK. I write The Shift, a newsletter on work culture, creativity + tech trends.⚡️ If you like this and want to read more, please consider becoming a paid subscriber here. Or if you prefer, you can treat me to a coffee here. Find me online @niccitalbot.