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Nina's Blog: Data, can we be sustainable with it or without it?

I have a growing fascination with data. It started because, even though good quality data is the primary fuel for most business digital transformation projects to be successful, you rarely find people who want to lead the transformation with a data strategy.

The reaction to cleaning up data was about the same as asking people to volunteer to clean up nuclear waste – just not happening.

It was also what was happening in our personal lives and my own increasing reliance on several digital devices.

Swapped camera for phone for taking pictures and suddenly I did not have to worry about how many pictures I was taking, I no longer had to think about the cost of that roll of film and processing to get 3 maybe useable snaps at the end and I could take loads of shots because I would delete the ones I did not want later, right? I never did.

I remember when I set up my very first Gmail account, the guy helping me said “you never have to delete emails as you will never use up this amount of data” I wish Mark was still around now for him to see how wrong he was.

The growing pile of trash data I accumulate is astonishing, and I do not have total control over stopping it, no matter how many unsubscribes I do.

And then came along WhatsApp and the ability to share moments of joy with everyone you know, with absolute ease. I recently told my uncle to stop sending me the endless stream of forwarded by many videos because I was reducing my data footprint, his response “you have lost your sense of humour”.

The growing accumulation of data is no joke.

The emissions created by data and data storage are equal to that generated by the airline industry and wait for it…99.5% of collected data never gets used or analysed.

That was the point of data, that we analysed it and used it. It is because of analysing data we know we are facing a climate change crisis. The collection, storage and analyses of good quality data is essential.

If that has not completely blown your mind already, reports that the Bitcoin industry alone could produce enough CO2 to result in a 2 degrees Celsius warming by 2050.

Many of the statistics I have used in this blog have been taken from a brilliant piece written by Nick Galov here are some highlights:

· More data was generated in the last two years than in the entire human history before that.

· We constantly generate data. On Google alone, we submit 40,000 search queries per second. That amounts to 1.2 trillion searches yearly!

· Each minute, 300 new hours of video show up on YouTube. That is why there are more than 1 billion gigabytes (1 exabyte) of data on its servers!

· People share more than 100 terabytes of data on Facebook daily. Every minute, users send 31 million messages and view 2.7 million videos.

· Big data usage statistics indicate people take about 80% of photos on their smartphones. Considering that only this year over 1.4 billion devices will be shipped worldwide, we can only expect this percentage to grow.

· Smart devices (for example, fitness trackers, sensors, Amazon Echo) produce 5 quintillion bytes of data daily. In 5 years, we can expect the number of these gadgets to be more than 50 billion!

· Huge companies like Google use shared computing to satisfy their customers’ needs. About 1,000 computers are involved in answering every query.

What is the problem with all that?

Data needs to be stored, and before you say yours is in the cloud, that does not mean it’s carbon neutral sat on a fluffy pure white cloud in a deep blue sky, even cloud storage takes a lot of energy.

Loads of work is going on to make sure the energy used is clean but the phenomenal rate that data is growing means keeping up with that demand is going to be tricky.

As for business, come on, this is a no brainer. Keeping hold of rubbish data makes it hard to use the good stuff. I told one of my clients it would be easier to delete it all and start again than trying to clean it, this is not a ridiculous idea, in a lot of cases it makes sense.

For those data geeks who want to know more, check out our podcast here:

and watch it here:

What can you do?

Add it to the list of things you look to change. As we strive to eat less meat, drive less, and fly less lets also consume less data. I’m not proposing we all give up Google or Netflix but we all start with the really unnecessary stuff.

Research commissioned by Ovo Energy last November suggested that if each person in the UK sent one fewer email a day it could cut carbon output by more than 16,000 tonnes a year.

The research claimed that would be the equivalent of more than 80,000 people flying from London to Madrid. It found that the 10 most “unnecessary” emails included messages saying only “thank you”, “appreciated”, “cheers” and “LOL”.

No need to thank me for this post, do share what you are doing to reduce your data footprint, that is quality data we could all learn from.


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Amanda Bowles
Amanda Bowles
2021년 6월 27일

Great blog Nina! I LOVE data; before you can improve anything you have to measure it, otherwise you're just taking a chance on whether what you do actually makes things better. But there's a real problem with people not understanding data and statistics. With the ever increasing data mountain its really important that we start teaching our children better to be sceptical and discerning consumers of information and not just shlurp it up and regurgitate it.

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