I love learning about different ways that I can help to contribute to reducing my carbon footprint and learning more about sustainable products. This includes learning about ways that I can make more eco-minded decisions when using my favorite technology so that I can lessen the impact I have on the environment when using my favorite tools. In honor of Earth Day, here are my tips for reducing your digital carbon footprint and simple actions that can help users make environmentally-friendly decisions when using technology.
Delete files that are no longer needed
While cloud-based storage options are considered to be an environmentally-friendly choice, storing files still consumes energy. This can be reduced by deleting files that are no longer needed, including duplicate photos and files that are no longer necessary. I typically clean up the files in my OneDrive every semester, or every 3-4 months.
Clean out your email
Did you know that an email stored in an inbox for one year emits less than an ounce of CO2? While that might not seem like much, this can quickly add up as users frequently send and receive emails. By regularly cleaning out email inboxes and unsubscribing from email lists that are no longer needed, users can help themselves to stay organized and reduce the amount of CO2 emissions from their email.
Practice accessing digital materials with assistive technology
While there’s no doubt that physical/paper-based accessible materials are awesome, it’s valuable for users to practice accessing digital materials with assistive technology such as large print, screen magnification, screen readers, and refreshable Braille displays so that there is less of a reliance on paper-based materials. I switched to having almost all of my school materials in a digital format during high school and it has helped me tremendously in college as a majority of my professors assign work online and have students submit assignments digitally.
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Turn off devices when not in use
In order to help keep my devices from draining their batteries or consuming unneeded electricity, I turn off my devices when not in use or at least put them into sleep mode when they aren’t in use. Most of my devices are plugged into a power strip/surge protector so I can make sure that they aren’t wasting energy by staying plugged in. I recommend labeling or organizing cords to help figure out which devices are in use.
If possible, reduce screen brightness
While this may not be an option for users with low vision who rely on overly bright screens, reducing screen brightness from 100% to 70% can help tremendously with conserving energy, and also with reducing eyestrain and screen fatigue. Users who do not rely on their screen for information can also enable a screen curtain or turn off the display of their screen entirely, which is often recommended for screen reader users.
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Download music and videos that will be used frequently instead of streaming them
One of the biggest sources of traffic on the internet is streaming for videos and music. Since streaming consumes a large amount of data, it makes more sense to download videos and music that will be played over and over again, instead of having to stream the same media multiple times. For my college classes, I typically download all of the videos at the beginning of the semester so I can easily reference them as needed, and so I don’t have to worry about not being able to access the course website.
An important thing to check when downloading videos for offline use is to make sure that the offline video still supports audio description. While I have never had any issues with videos not having audio description when I save them for offline use, it’s worth it to check this information first!
Reduce video quality
If I am watching a video with audio description or watching without looking at the screen, my favorite trick for reducing how much data I use for streaming is to reduce the video quality whenever possible, though I don’t do this when I am watching a video and taking notes on visual details. On YouTube, users can reduce the video quality by clicking the “Settings” button within a video and selecting the video quality of their choice- the exact quality will vary depending on the video.
Look into recycling programs for assistive technology and other electronics
Did you know that many states and countries have assistive technology recycling programs? These are a great way to pass on technology products that are no longer working or no longer needed. While the exact products that each program accepts will vary, used assistive technology products such as video magnifiers, Braille displays, accessible books, and mobility aids are common items. Some places will also accept old cell phones, computers, tablets, and similar electronics as well.
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Disable autoplay and block ads
Advertisements and videos can quickly eat up data as they often contain moving images or other visuals such as flashing lights. Since I am photosensitive, I have ad blockers enabled across my devices and disable autoplay for videos so that I don’t end up accidentally watching something I don’t want to- or worse, watching something that can trigger a migraine.
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I recognize that not everyone will be able to make all of these changes to their technology use for a variety of different reasons. The point of this post isn’t to shame people for not reducing their digital carbon footprint, but rather to provide easy-to-implement ideas that can help users to make more eco-friendly choices whenever they can. I hope that this post on reducing your digital carbon footprint is helpful for others!