Is tech creating more problems for the environment than it’s solving?

9 Feb 2023

Image: © eyetronic/

Tech will often tout the sustainability credentials of digitisation, but with levels of e-waste rising, data centres spreading and even paper seeing increased use, how green can it be?

Across all businesses right now, sustainability is a big buzzword. And the tech sector is no exception.

The sector is also not immune to greenwashing – the practice of feigning sustainability or eco-friendliness while operating contrary to these ideals – or misguided efforts, either. Because true sustainability and circularity is a tough nut to crack, particularly in an economy that’s built to serve a more wasteful, linear model.

And when it comes to tech waste, it’s easy just to think of the tonnes of electronic waste, or e-waste, that goes to landfill, bringing many precious, finite and potentially reusable materials with it. But there’s much more to the story than that.

“Most data centres are really dumps,” explained Gerry McGovern, author of World Wide Waste and host of the podcast of the same name. “Only about 5pc of data is re-used 90 days after it’s first stored.”

The storage of that other 95pc has a cost that’s both environmental – due to the energy and equipment required to run data centres – and also financial. The advent of inexpensive cloud storage encouraged bad habits in data hoarding, and now the price is going up.

“The era of cheap data is over and we’re not going to go back to it,” said McGovern. “That age stopped around 2017 and now we’re going to see an increasing cost of data to the organisation.”

McGovern expanded on the environmental impact of waste data in the latest episode of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network.

He also explained how digitisation isn’t even solving the problem of excessive paper use and offered his tips on how to use data more responsibly, with sustainability in mind.

This episode also explores the wins of the hard-fought right-to-repair movement, which has seen even Apple (reluctantly) come on board.

Listen to the latest episode of For Tech’s Sake wherever you get your podcasts, and subscribe for more.

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