Can we design a more sustainable internet?

With the internet now accounting for roughly the same amount of carbon emissions as global air travel, we look at what designers can do to help tackle our digital waste problem

There’s been a huge amount of interest in the sustainable design movement in recent years – whether it’s thinking about branding and packaging design in a more environmentally conscious way, or reimagining the short shelf-lives of the majority of our tech products. One thing you may not have considered when it comes to your individual impact on the planet, however, is your digital footprint.

In a world where we are more digitally connected than ever before, every email sent and every Google search performed has an environmental cost. The stats speak for themselves: the internet currently produces 3.8% of the world’s carbon emissions – roughly the same as the global airline industry. If the internet was a country, it would be the seventh largest polluter in the world, and this trend is only expected to accelerate between now and 2030.

The idea of digital waste isn’t an entirely new concept; experts such as Gerry McGovern have been exploring the environmental impact of the internet since as early as the 90s. McGovern has written eight books on the subject, the latest being World Wide Waste. In the book, he writes: “Digital is demanding an increasing share of the earth’s energy and resources and is a major contributor to the generation of toxic trash, to a culture of disposability, convenience and the most wasteful behaviour ever seen in human history.”