How Is Dark Data Killing The Planet? Produces Even More Carbon Footprint Than The Aviation Industry

by | Jan 5, 2023 | Trending

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Have you ever thought about how that one extra copy of the draft you created or that pointless screenshot in your google photos contributes to your carbon footprint? We frequently refer to the transportation sector or fossil fuels when discussing carbon emissions and global warming. However, the majority of people are unaware of how dark data is killing the planet, producing even more carbon footprint than the aviation industry.

Before moving on, let us first understand what “dark data” is and how it threatens the environment.

What is “Dark Data”?


Over 50% of businesses’ digital data is gathered, analyzed, and saved for one-time usage. Typically, it is not utilized again. It can be our many, nearly similar photos stored on Google Photos or iCloud, out-of-date spreadsheets from a company that may never be used again, or useless data from IoT sensors. In some circumstances, the company might not even be conscious of the data collection.

This “dark data” has a basis in reality, thanks to the energy it uses. On servers, even data that is archived but never again accessed consumes space. The amount of electricity required by all those warehouses and computers helps to explain the environmental burden and how dark data is killing the planet.

A Digital Carbon Footprint

Even though most global climate campaigners concentrate on carbon reduction from energy, aviation, and automobile industries, digital data handling is equivalent to these industries and continually expanding.

According to estimates, digitalization was responsible for 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. Digital data generation is accelerating dramatically; this year, 97 zettabytes of data are anticipated to be produced globally. It may nearly treble to 181 zettabytes by 2025. Therefore, it is astonishing how little legislative focus has been given to minimizing organizations’ digital carbon footprints.

Individuals routinely believe that digital data, and even the process of digitization, is carbon neutral. However, it is only sometimes the case because we have some degree of influence over its carbon footprint.

Data centers, which are accountable for 2.5% of all human-induced carbon dioxide, have a larger carbon footprint than the aviation sector, which only accounts for 2.1%.

The best way to comprehend that digitization is not an environmental problem is to reduce digital data’s carbon footprint. However, the employment of digital processes in our day-to-day job activities has significant ecological consequences.

For 100 people, a typical data-driven industry like insurance, retail, or finance may produce 2,983 terabytes of dark data daily. The carbon impact of the data, if maintained over a year, would be equivalent to six flights from London to New York.

Companies generate 1,300,000,000 terabytes of dark data daily, equivalent to 3,023,255 flights from London to New York.

This procedure is quite an energy intensive and produces much heat at the magnitude of today’s modern data centers. Due to the constant cooling requirements of data centers, substantial power is used. Hard drives are one type of component that must occasionally be changed. Additionally, if there is a risk that they may be hiding sensitive data, they need to be cleaned appropriately.

The exponential increase of dark data raises serious concerns regarding the effectiveness of present digital procedures. In research that was recently published in the Journal of Business Strategy, researchers outlined strategies for assisting organizations in the reuse of digital data and highlighted the steps they should take while gathering, processing, and storing new digital data. In order for net zero to be achieved, we all need to be involved in the digital decarbonization effort, which will help limit the generation of dark data.

Reducing The Environmental Impact of “Dark Data”

Today, the majority of businesses rely significantly on the cloud to store their data. Even if the benefits of cloud computing are apparent, it is simple to imagine that data saved there is out of sight and out of mind. However, even if you are using a faraway data center run by a corporate behemoth like Amazon or Google to store your data does not mean that your environmental effect will be lessened. Prominent digital companies are making every effort to advance their own CSR standards, but the company utilizing the services is ultimately responsible for data governance.

No company can afford to disregard this issue. Even if it may not seem very severe right now, the situation will only get worse in the years to come. Organizations must have a sustainable data lifecycle management policy that ensures old and unnecessary data is automatically removed or, at the very least, archived onto an external storage medium that uses no power to combat dark data. A company’s data footprint may be significantly reduced by consolidating databases, which also offers several other advantages, including improved productivity, efficiency, and teamwork. And besides, having a dedicated data source almost eliminates the possibility of contradictory data warehouses.

It will be necessary to phase out outdated technologies like copper, 3G, and 4G and replace them with more modern ones like fiber and 5G networks to increase networks’ carbon efficiency. When data burdens are moved to these new technologies, they become more effective, which also aids in the realization of sustainability at scale as IoT-connected sensors and devices enhance the effectiveness of agriculture, supply chains, and energy grids.

The Bottom Line

Every amount is stored as a carbon imprint, which goes some way to explaining how dark data is killing the planet. Organizations must begin evaluating data hygiene processes through a green lens to guarantee that climate change is addressed. Given the extraordinary growth in data expected over the next ten years, making data processing and storage more sustainable at every stage is now a crucial concern. The cost of doing business is indeed rising due to climate change. Increased resilience, lower costs, more efficiency, and a more promising future for all stakeholders are all tangible benefits for businesses.



  • Dr. Emily Greenfield

    Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.


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