July 29, 2022

The Intersection of Digital Communications and Climate Change

The daily lives of most of the planet are now largely occupied by interaction with online devices and the digital media they present to us. Dependence on these forms of communication has obscured awareness of the environmental impact of our online habits and today’s methods of mass media and business communication.

The troubling reality is that the carbon emissions from tech infrastructure and the data servers that enable cloud computing now exceed those of pre-Covid air travel.

From the accelerated shift toward online shopping to the rise of working from home video conferencing routines, the pandemic has had many reverberations on the scale and use of  technology.

Many organizations are refocusing how they connect and engage with customers and audiences online. This represents a huge opportunity for organisations to rethink and deepen relationships with customers, and find ways to connect and engage with employees more effectively from remote locations. It also runs the risk of creating additional demands on energy. VML Technology has set out to solve this dilemma with the launch of its Web 3.0 Player, which will both turbo-charge engagement for companies while also significantly reducing energy consumption by licensing one of our most powerful tools in the fight against the climate crisis.  

Your digital footprint = a carbon footprint

Digital media that is sent, shared, and stored ultimately requires power—each action we take online demands the inefficient movement of data through mass data centres that have a significant carbon footprint.

While the use of renewable energy sources by data centres is progressively growing, most electricity is still generated by fossil fuels. The limits of current efforts to reduce consumption have become even more evident in recent months with global energy shortages and rising temperatures.

A perfect storm of rising demand for energy and global disruptions of supply have placed greater responsibility and opportunity at the feet of technology companies attempting to reinvent existing, environmentally damaging practices. The mass scale and exponential growth of digital communications is an opportunity to address climate change through innovative new approaches. Every company releasing statements about carbon neutral goals should be looking first at their digital communications practices.

How can digital communications adapt?

According to United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Executive Director Inger Andersen, “Only digital technologies move at the speed and scale necessary to achieve the kind of dramatic reduction in emissions that we need to see in the next 10 years.”

Given the storage and streaming requirements of video, and its position as the most popular and fast growing communication medium, it is a particular area of interest on how digital media can become more sustainable.

Watching online videos accounts for the biggest chunk of the world's internet traffic (60%) and generates 300m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, which is roughly 1% of global emissions, according to French think tank, The Shift Project. Energy is consumed by the servers and networks that distribute the content as well as the devices used for viewing.

VML has been working to solve the sustainability problem with the ongoing development of its third generation player. The company has taken an innovative approach to enabling video personalisation to be both scalable and sustainable by assembling video on the edge without saving files for each end-user. There is no increase in time or environmental impact whether video is being personalised to 10 individuals or 1 billion. One video may be rendered uniquely at the time of viewing by millions without individual files stored for each.

Delivering Sustainable Communications

A necessary step toward the collective action needed to tackle the climate crisis is public awareness of the overwhelming benefits we will experience if we reach our net emissions targets. These include health benefits, job production, and environmental restoration.

Tom Dowdall, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace, highlighted that “ICT is crucial to tackling climate change”, and if you consider how fundamental the internet and digital marketing has been in raising awareness, it’s unlikely we would have seen the significant shift in both personal and political efforts without it.

Digital media presents an opportunity to reach billions of people worldwide to communicate the importance of climate action. Digital communications hold untapped potential through personalisation—be it in advertising, campaigning, or more—it can significantly boost engagement,  awareness and action. It can also be a contributor to climate degradation if not offered differently than it is today.

VML believes reduction of demand for energy through more efficient delivery of video is a vital path to be taken for companies attempting to realise meaningful gains in the fight against climate change. The VML Player presents an opportunity for companies to make strides in ESG policies while enhancing their level of communication with their target audiences.

How companies are taking action to reduce their carbon footprint today

As Economist Lord Nicholas Stern said recently, “The costs of global inaction significantly outweigh the costs of action.”

“The new challenge is how to foster greater innovation and creativity, and to recognise and create the key mechanisms and dynamics of change.”

With Apple pledging to be entirely Carbon Neutral by 2030, to Amazon Web Services (AWS) aiming to power operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, it’s clearer than ever how the climate crisis is affecting the workings of the world around us. The climate crisis changes how technological industries, businesses, governments, and more must operate. It also shows significant public awareness—consumers are conscious actors who want the brands they interact with to represent the values and issues most important to them.

The world’s most innovative companies, large and small, are demonstrating their dedication to fighting the climate crisis through investment and research. Enormous resources are being spent on more sustainable production of energy through solar and wind. The reduction of energy consumption through use of technology like VML will run congruently alongside these investments to create collective impact on climate. Gains on both the supply and demand side of the fight are essential for progress to be made by companies trying to satisfy the demands of their target customers.

Grace Farrell
Content Creator & Copywriter