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Dark Data

Posted on December 7, 2022, by Loretto Community

A dark photo of a wiring system behind mesh screen doors.
Photo by Taylor Vick on Unsplash

By Rebecca Sallee Hanson

As your friendly neighborhood webmaster I wanted to share this article from the World Economic Forum, along with a couple of thoughts.

The article is about “dark data” — basically the data we put in the cloud (e.g. Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive) and then never use again — and how much of a carbon impact it has. There’s a lot of good information in the article, but this quote specifically stopped me in my tracks:

“To illustrate the magnitude of the dark data situation, data centers (responsible for 2.5% of all human-induced carbon dioxide) have a greater carbon footprint than the aviation industry (2.1%).”

I was both astounded at that and, surprisingly, hopeful. Astounded because although I knew that digital information has a carbon footprint, I had no idea that our collective human digital life has such an impact carbon-wise. Hopeful because this is something that I, personally, can take action on in regard to addressing climate change.

Some ways to reduce your dark data are:

  • Deleting unneeded documents from cloud storage locations (this includes Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive, etc.)
  • Storing things in one place and linking to them (ex. If you’re sharing a document in Google Drive, share the link to the document instead of sending it as an attachment)
  • Making a conscious choice about what to put in Google Drive and iCloud accounts 
  • Deleting the duplicate photos on your computer/phone/tablet

These are all things that I will start being conscious of, and start doing, today. 

So I share this information with all of you, not to add more to anyone’s plate, but to offer one course of action that can be taken on an individual and organizational level.


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