Jisc report urges universities and colleges to audit climate impact of tech

The report hopes to help guide education provides towards a greener future with IT thought to contribute to between 5-20% of institutional scope 1 and 2 emissions

Jisc has launched a new report that urges universities and colleges to address the environmental impact of their IT operations. 

The report, Exploring digital carbon footprints, warns that technology and data storage increase emissions from the post-18 education sector. 

Jisc is a not-for-profit firm that offers IT services to the HE and FE sectors, including the national JANET network. 

Currently, there are no specific breakdowns of the IT-related emissions of the sector – but the report mentions one college that attributes 20% of its emissions to technology, with the sector average thought to range between 5-10% of total carbon emissions. 

Eighty per cent of tech-related emissions are released during manufacturing – with the remaining share associated with operation and disposal. Figures suggest that every 100 gigabytes of data stored in the cloud could generate 0.2 tonnes of carbon emissions per year, but 90% of data is stored and never used again. 

The report even estimates HE and FE staff scrolling through LinkedIn “could be generating up to 2,792 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year”.

This emerging demonstrates that “the greatest contributors to [sector] carbon footprints are the services and products they buy.”

Independent technology analyst Scott Stonham, the report’s author, offers practical steps for colleges and universities to reduce tech emissions. 

While the report covers long-term strategies for change, there is also a list of quick wins aimed at education institutes that could help make an immediate impact on digital carbon footprints. The suggestions include:

  • Better understand differences in workstation power consumption when using video conferencing with and without video enabled by using plug-in smart sockets or energy meters.
  • Monitor, measure and communicate energy usage between buildings, departments, or labs.
  • Conduct on-premises and cloud data usage audits to identify wasted data that can be eliminated.
  • Communicate the carbon impact of social media use and encourage a reduction in time spent endlessly scrolling through feeds, or even self-imposed ‘screen time’ limits for social media apps.
  • Encourage Wi-Fi use across campus and remotely.
  • Don’t ‘stand by’: turn off devices.
  • Use hardware for longer
  • Change hardware settings, opting for ‘dark’ themes, lower screen brightness and ‘intelligent’ hibernation and sleep patterns for tech. 
  • The design of buildings and facilities is crucial. Check whether the hardware can tolerate warmer operating conditions. House servers in rooms with low ceilings to minimise the amount of air to cool. Install AI to manage internal cooling and integrate free air cooling systems that use abundant cold air rather than air conditioning units. 
  • Audit tech usage to, for example, identify times servers can be switched off. 

The education sector is at a very early stage in recognising and tackling the role technology plays in carbon emissions – Robin Ghurbhurun, managing director of FE, skills and member support (FE and HE)

The report was commissioned by the managing director of FE, skills and member support (FE and HE), Robin Ghurbhurun, who also has responsibility for Jisc’s external sustainability agenda.

He states: “The education sector is at a very early stage in recognising and tackling the role technology plays in carbon emissions, whether that’s data storage, procurement, the sustainability of equipment or even the video conferencing tools we use to work remotely.”

Read the full report: Exploring digital carbon footprints

Read more: We Speak Science to help STEM learners from diverse backgrounds


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