The amount of data that we generate is growing exponentially. In 2010 we created 1.2 zettabytes of data, in 2020 we created 44 zettabytes, and that number is expected to reach 175 zettabytes by 2025. Much of this data is what is known as “dark data”: data that is collected and stored but never used or reused.

Dark data has a significant environmental impact. The energy required to store and process data is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.  To put things into some perspective, researchers from Lancaster Universiy argued in 2021 research paper that the “ICT sector true proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions could be around 2.1-3.9%. Although like for like comparisons are difficult, these figures would suggest ICT has emissions greater than the aviation industry, which are around 2 % of global emissions.”

The primary strategy we advice businesses to adopt to reduce the carbon footprint of dark data is to implement data minimization practices.  This means only collecting the data that is absolutely necessary, and deleting it when it is no longer needed.  This has the added parallel benefit of reducing risks and costs associated with data-protection and governance burdens.

The environmental impact of dark data is a growing concern. By taking steps to reduce the amount of dark data that we generate, we can help to protect our planet for future generations and also reduce the data-protection and governance burden.

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