Science & Technology

This tool can help companies track digital carbon footprint of stored data

Data carbon ladder enables organisations to see environmental impact of stored data at various stages

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 03 July 2023
Photo: iStock

Scientists have come up with a new tool that can calculate carbon emissions caused by digital data, especially by companies that want to offset their carbon footprint. Data carbon ladder can help businesses measure the carbon dioxide output of their digital data.

Researchers from Loughborough University, the United Kingdom created and launched the tool, whose details can be accessed in the periodical Journal of Knowledge Management Research and Practice. 

By 2025, it is estimated that the global data will surpass 180 zettabytes and the amount of digital data is doubling every two years, the university said in a briefing announcing the tool on its website.

A typical data-driven business employing 100 full-time employees will generate approximately 2,203 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually due to new data, it further said. 

Read more: Digging your own digital grave: How should you manage the data you leave behind?

The inclusion of the data CO2 footprint is a crucial factor missing from global decarbonisation policies, the briefing further said. Data centres are responsible for 2.5 per cent to 3.7 per cent of all human-induced carbon dioxide — more than the aviation industry (2.1 per cent).

By using the tool, believed to be the first of its kind, companies can make data-driven decisions that benefit the environment and save money by reducing the need for carbon offsetting.

The tool can also help businesses and organisations improve their data projects’ sustainability by reducing their environmental impact and creating a more efficient and sustainable solution.

Its creators say it is the first publicly available tool to calculate the data CO2 footprint across the data journey, from the origin of a dataset through to its end use — for example, AI analytics.

​​​​​​​The tool enables organisations to see the environmental impact of data at key stages along the data journey, providing stage-by-stage CO2 output as well as an overall CO2 footprint for new data projects.

It helps determine the appropriate size of the dataset(s) required, the optimal frequency for updates, the most suitable storage location, and the analytics necessary for projects.


“The ladder is unique because it allows you to measure impact at every stage on the data journey. Not just at the end,” said Tom Jackson, professor at Loughborough Business School. 

“In the push towards net zero, digital technologies have played, and continue to play, a critical role, but we must also be cognisant of the hidden data CO2 cost attached to the way society and organisations use digital technologies,” added professor Ian Hodgkinson. 

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