How big is your office digital footprint?

And what can we do about it?

Have you ever thought about the digital data in your office? Digital data covers everything in our virtual world such as emails, files, images, videos, message chats, social media posts etc. Each day we are in the office, we are creating more; more emails, more files, more images, more messages… The reality is we do not pay attention to our digital footprint as this virtual world is invisible. However, everyday we add to our office digital footprint more energy is required. And the more energy that is required – the bigger our carbon footprint.

Digital sustainability: the impact of your digital footprint in the office

Back in 2021 I came across the statistic ‘if the internet was a country it would be the 7th most polluting country in the world.’1 Two years later that ranking has moved up to 4th place1.

The modern workplace relies heavily on cloud based services for software, network servers, and the world wide web. All of this requires data storage which consumes a huge amounts of energy. Whilst there is a move towards greener energy sources, the reality is most of this energy is generated by fossil fuels. So every email you send, every new document you create, every meeting you have, contributes to greenhouse emissions. Each action may only contribute a tiny bit – but add them all up and suddenly it is a lot.

It is not all bad news though. There are positives to the digital workplace. Paperless offices means we are making paper savings leading to decreased deforestation. Virtual meetings mean less commuting and decreased carbon emissions from transport. Cloud based software means updates in real-time leading to greater online and computer security.

What changes can you make to your Office Digital Footprint?

1. Optimise Emails Practices

Optimising your email practices is a good place to start. At Lil Creative Studio we addressed the size of our email inbox long before we began to think about our email digital footprint. 15 years ago it would take less than a year to fill up our inboxes with attachments (usually proofs); and there was only so many times we could upgrade our email package before we hit the limit. So we had a think and made some changes.

Things to consider:

  • Only send emails you need to
  • Unsubscribe from newsletters you no longer read
  • Delete trash and spam regularly
  • Delete unnecessary emails as they come in
  • Keep your inbox and sent folder to 12-18 months of emails
  • Reduce the size of attachments
  • Send files via WeTransfer (files are deleted after 7 days)
  • Create a low impact email signature

#designtip – Use shared drives rather than emailing documents back and forth. At Lil Creative Studio we have a cloud drive where we upload all content for projects, proofs, and feedback. Everything in these drives is kept for 3 months after the job is completed before being downloaded and archived on an external drive.

2. Digital Document Management

Like many businesses 20+ years ago, when we first started working in design the offices were big. They had to contain: job bags of correspondence, feedback, and sign-offs; storage spaces dedicated to proofs and artwork; a mock-up room full of anything you could possibly need to create a project; and then there was the administrative store room. Every so often we would spring clean to make space for new projects. Today our office is almost completely our computer. However, all those items; correspondence, proofs, artwork, administration are still there – just virtually.

Now think about your office. How much paperwork would you have created 20 years ago? That is now all on your computer, but do you clean it out? If we keep our computers clear of unnecessary digital data the machine will run faster and last longer.

Things to consider (for Desktops, Laptops and Phones):

  • Empty the trash
  • Delete old files you no longer need
  • Clean your browser – delete cache, declutter bookmarks, turn off unnecessary browser extensions
  • Declutter messenger chats
  • Reassess notifications
  • Keep everything up to date
  • Uninstall software or apps you no longer use
  • Backup old work to an external hard drive

#designtip – Switch to dark mode where you can. This reduces the amount of energy required to light up your screen and saves battery life (especially important for laptops and phones). However, be aware dark mode isn’t for everybody and can be difficult for some users.

3. Cloud Computing Efficiency

The modern workplace is reliant on the cloud; network servers, storage drives, computing software. Not to mention online accounts for project management, financial accounting, and shared drives. Quite often we sign up to something, use it once, and then forget about it. But that data stays online and requires ongoing energy.

Like digital document management Cloud Computing Efficiency is about decluttering your data.

Things to consider:

  • Delete files you no longer need
  • When using Shared Drives archive work no longer in use
  • Delete online accounts you no longer use
  • Keep software up-to-date and delete older versions
  • Back up to low impact data storage providers
  • Switch to a greener cloud

#designtip – Consider archiving work to external hard drives rather than cloud servers. These hard drives are are not consuming energy when turned off.

4. Website Energy-Efficiency

The average size of a web page in 2023 is 2.4MB for a desktop version and 2MB for a mobile. This is a long way from the first ever website which had a page size of around 4KB2. The reason for this increase is the improvement in technology; complex website builders, larger images, improved video quality, additional animations.

But you can keep your website trim simply through ongoing maintenance.

Things to consider:

  • Delete old themes and plugins you are no longer using
  • Delete images and documents you are no longer using
  • Delete unpublished pages
  • Go through your blog/news posts. How many are relevant now? Can you delete content that is no longer being read?
  • Keep your website software up-to-date

#designtip – Ask your developer to optimise your website for energy efficiency during the build, after that it is up to your maintenance to make sure it is optimised it’s lowest possible impact.

5. Social Media Management

This originally fell under 3. Cloud Computing Efficiency but we decided to give Social Media it’s own category. Ask yourself how many Social Media does your business have? Now ask yourself how often you post? Finally ask yourself how long have you been posting for?

The average scroll back on a social media account is 1 year (this is dependant on platform and frequency of posting). Like digital file management these posts should be deleted (or archived if possible) if they are no longer going to be viewed.

Things to consider:

  • Delete old content no longer relevant
  • Delete repeated posts
  • Delete posts older than a year (consider platform and frequency of your posting)

#designtip – We can’t be everything to everyone. Streamline your social media accounts and focus on the platforms that reach your audience. If you don’t want to delete your profile on an account you no longer use, pin a post to the top directing your customers to your preferred platform.

Regular assessment for improvement

If you are reviewing your Office Digital Footprint for the first time the above can seem like a lot. Start with one area and implement best practice before moving to the next. Then when you have completed all areas you can embed regular assessment into your workflow until it becomes part of your best business practice.

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