How To Make Online Work More Sustainable?

The Coronavirus Has Increased Online Work. This Labor Should Be Done With the Least Environmental Impact Possible.

Man doing telework

Although online teleworking can reduce the environmental impact due to the little use of transport to work establishments, it produces other damages due to the excessive use of technological equipment that emits carbon. Photo: Unsplash

LatinAmerican Post | Moises Campos

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The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed several systems in labor industries. New changes are still expected due to the permanence of the virus and its recent strains and online teleworking has been one of these.

Although online teleworking can reduce the environmental impact due to reduced use of transport to work establishments, it produces other damages due to the excessive use of technological equipment that emits carbon. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the use of technological tools for online telecommuting, producing carbon emissions of up to 35 million tons.

Technological devices, by not physically releasing substances, give the impression that online jobs are more sustainable.

However, the total energy consumed in mobile devices and other technological equipment, as well as the network maintenance systems, gradually leave an environmental footprint. For this reason, methods are being studied to establish more sustainable digital activities.

According to the report presented by the French Observatory for Energy Transition Shift Project (TSP), digital consumption is not sustainable in terms of energy or raw materials for manufacturing. They indicate that, in the last eight years, energy emissions from online activities and the use of mobile devices have increased by up to 50%, increasing the greenhouse effect.

On the other hand, a study by McMaster University in Canada estimates that by 2040 almost 15% of emissions from technological activities will be the current equivalent of what transport systems generate. The study suggests establishing efficient measures for successful sustainable management. The calculation of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) advises the good management of technological resources for online teleworking.

The useful life of the equipment

The same TSP report mentions that technology industries encourage the disposal of devices, each time they launch new generations of mobile technology. It is recommended to change equipment only when necessary to practice sustainability. They claim that renewing mobile phones without a compelling reason increases environmental damage, delaying sustainable progress. Also, creating a smartphone consumes 80 times more energy than building a car.

McMaster University states that mobiles produce a higher concentration of emissions during the manufacturing process than the pollution they produce in ten years of use. They indicate that this activity increases the problem, for which sustainable technological equipment projects have been proposed. A study by the European Environmental Office, proposes the lengthening of the useful life of smartphones, to avoid the early replacement.

The TSP report explains that every time a new device comes out, the carbon footprint is higher.

Also read: Which Latin American countries have promoted the use of electric cars?

Rational use to reduce emissions

The environmental burden of mobiles lies in their factory architecture, however, the use of online services is also present throughout their useful life. According to McMaster University, smartphones undermine sustainable management as they contribute to the highest Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission, surpassing desktop devices, laptops, and televisions.

According to Mike Berners-Lee, an expert in carbon footprint and environmental impact study, in his book How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, the annual use of the mobile in online activities for every two minutes of daily use, produces an emission of 50 kilos of CO2. The expert estimates that in 2020 around 764 megatons of CO2 were emitted, only with the use of the Internet, the same happens for online teleworking.

The recommendation of the TSP report is to use a single dual SIM smartphone for personal and business use. To reduce GHG emissions, the use of dual SIM phones can be increased by more than 50%, as this reduces environmental impact by up to 40% and increases sustainable resources.

Recommendations for sustainable use

It is advisable to use storage services in the cloud, to host documents and avoid the constant use of email. The use of online platforms in replacement of email reduces energy consumption by more than 80%, reducing GHG emissions in the environment. According to TSP data, the energy impact produced by online teleworking is 1,500 times greater than that of regular smartphone use.

Streaming increases energy consumption, due to online viewing in high definition. Average 10-minute video playback equals 2,000 watts consumption from using an electric oven. They estimate that watching a 10-minute video equates to five hours of email use.

According to a recent study by Yale and Purdue Universities, Imperial College London and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, online activities have the greatest impact on carbon, water, and land consumption. They recommend to the teleworking sector the visualization of videos in standard mode since in this way an energy saving of almost 90% is achieved. They also recommend turning off the cameras to reduce power consumption by more than 95%.

They claim that up to 1 kilo of CO2 is emitted in video conferences, consuming 12 liters of water, which is equivalent to a portion of land the size of a tablet. They also advise people with online work to set the aforementioned parameters to drive sustainable development.