Digital waste explained

1. I keep my digital devices for as long as possible.

Hold on to your devices for as long as possible. It’s the single most important thing you can do to reduce digital waste. Up to 80% of CO2 and other pollution is caused during the manufacture of a digital device because such devices are both resource intensive from a materials perspective and energy intensive from a manufacturing perspective.

16 out of 17 of rare earth materials can be found in a typical smartphone. Many of these materials are found in wilderness areas and mining them puts an increasing number of our rarest and most beautiful of species at risk.

Making one 150-gram smartphone can cause 60 kg of CO2, and use up some 13,000 liters of water and almost 7 kg of mined ore, not to mention the plastic and other materials required. If you keep your smartphone for five years instead of two years, you can halve its CO2 and water impact.

Extending the lifespan of smartphones and other electronics by just one year would save the EU as much carbon emissions as taking 2 million cars off the roads annually.

A conflict mineral called coltan is found in many phones. It is mined in the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the place that the lowland gorillas call home. The mining stresses the habitat and stresses the gorilla population. Our modern lifestyles are consuming life on earth.

The mining process for many of the materials in our fantastically modern digital devices is often primitive and brutal. Common are slave labor, child labor, poor wages, poor safety practices, and little regard for the natural environment. But we don’t see this because we outsource our pollution and exploitative practices so that they are borne by the poor and struggling in this world.

What you can do

  1. Hold onto your digital device for as long as possible (at least five years).
  2. Get your device repaired if it breaks.
  3. Buy from a brand that can show that its manufacturing practices are fair and ethical, and that is genuinely building products that last, that are easy to repair and easy to recycle.

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2. When I no longer need a digital device, I immediately give it to someone else, sell it, or ensure it is properly recycled.

Don’t leave your old digital devices lying around. Every year we create over 50 million tons of e-waste. That’s the equivalent of dumping 1,000 laptops every second. Yes, every SECOND. Less than 20% of e-waste is recycled and a lot of the so-called “recycling” is done by exporting it to poor countries where children burn electronics in open pits, damaging their health and polluting the soil and water.

E-waste makes up only 2% of the landfills by mass but creates 70% of the hazardous waste emissions. In the UK alone, almost 20,000 tons of batteries are dumped in landfills every year. Batteries are the most terrible of waste products. The metal exterior will decompose after about 100 years, but the heavy metals inside will never decompose and will poison the environment forever. Always, always properly recycle your batteries.

Every year, almost $60 billion worth of iron, copper, gold and other precious materials are dumped as e-waste. There is about 100 times more gold in a typical ton of e-waste than there is in a ton of gold ore. Urban mining. Circular economy. We are consuming the earth for lazy convenience and creating a global toxic dump that is destroying life on the planet.

We must reuse, repair, bring materials back into a continuous circular economy. Make sure you buy stuff that is repairable, whose materials are reusable. Think long term.

“Reusing a computer is up to 20 times more energy efficient than recycling it,” explains Thibaud Hug de Larauze, CEO and co-founder of Back Market. Getting your old device back onto the market as quickly as possible is essential because of the very short product lifecycles. If you wait six months, that phone could be much less valuable to repair and sell on, so once you’ve finished with it, get it working for somebody else.

What you can do

  1. Always, always make sure old batteries get properly recycled.
  2. Buy devices that are repairable, whose materials are reusable.
  3. Don’t leave your old devices hanging around for a second longer than they need to.
  4. Sell / give your devices to people who are going to repair them.
  5. If the only option is to recycle, then make sure that your device will be professionally recycled.

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3. I try to use digital devices that consume the least energy possible (smartphones instead of laptops, laptops instead of desktops, small screens instead of large screens).

Always try and use the device that consumes the least amount of energy. Wattage tells you how much energy a device consumes. For example:

What does that mean from a CO2 pollution perspective?

As a general rule, devices that also depend on batteries tend to be more energy efficient because of the need to conserve battery life. Screens are pretty intense energy consumers. The larger the screen and the higher resolution it is, the more energy it is likely to be consuming. An 80-inch 8K TV can consume 200 watts per hour of use, for example.

What you can do

  1. Use the device that consumes the least energy (least wattage).
  2. Use the smallest screen you can.
  3. Avoid using multiple screens.

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4. I try to transfer data (particularly large quantities of data) using wired cable instead of using Wi-Fi, or 3G, 4G or 5G.

If you’re transferring particularly large quantities of data, a wire is much more energy efficient, and thus less polluting, than Wi-Fi and certainly much, much less polluting than using 3G, 4G or 5G.

Transferring data using a cable is more secure, more reliable and uses half the energy of using Wi-Fi. Transferring data using a fiber cable versus transferring the same data using a 3G connection has been found to be 45 times more energy efficient and thus 45 times less polluting. Estimates are that 5G will be even more energy intensive than 3G or 4G.

What you can do

  1. Always use a wire for transferring particularly large quantities of data.
  2. If you can’t use a wire, make sure you’re on Wi-Fi and not 3G, 4G or 5G

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5. I dim screens as much as possible.

While always protecting your eyes, try and dim the screen as much as possible, as screens are significant consumers of energy and thus producers of CO2.

What you can do

  1. Dim that screen!

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6. I use dark mode when possible.

Use dark mode if you’ve got an OLED screen. Premium phones tend to use OLED technology, but most cheaper phones, laptops, desktops and monitors use LCD. Using dark mode with an OLED screen will reduce energy consumption, but dark mode for an LCD screen will have no energy reduction effect.

What you can do

  1. Use dark mode if you’ve got an OLED screen.

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7. I ensure my screen gets turned off within 5 minutes of me stopping using my device.

The screen is a major source of energy consumption, so turning it off as quickly as possible after you’ve stopped using a device is a good idea.

According to our calculations, screens up to 50 inches in size consume an average of 1.2 watts per inch. So, a 30-inch screen would consume about 36 watts of electricity per hour of use. Screens above 50 inches tend to use newer, more energy-intense technology, such as 4K or 8K. Such screens consume an average of 2.6 watts per inch—more than twice what smaller screens consume. Thus, an 80-inch 8K TV could consume over 200 watts per hour. So, watching such a TV for an hour is like using a desktop computer for an hour.

What you can do

  1. Switch that screen off as soon as possible.

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8. I ensure my device goes into sleep or hibernation mode within 10 minutes of me stopping using it.

Put that device to sleep because devices that are on but not being used can consume up to 50% of the energy they consume when they are being used. It’s been estimated that 75% of the electricity consumption of digital devices occurs when they are inactive.

“An idle computer, even one at zero percent utilization, still draws electricity,” according to the Principles of Green Software Engineering. “At 0% utilization the computer still draws 100W, at 50% utilization it draws 180W and at 100% utilization it draws 200W.”

Putting a device to sleep or into hibernation still has energy consequences.

What you can do

  1. Put your device to sleep as soon as possible.
  2. Even better, shut it down.

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9. I shut down my device when I’ve finished working on it in the evening or when I know I won’t be using it for several hours.

Turning off / shutting down your computer is good for the planet and good for you. An analysis by Tufts University stated that, “If each household in the metro Boston area turned off their computer just one additional hour per day, we could save $3.2 million in electricity costs and prevent 19,000 tons of CO2 from heating the atmosphere."

Also, shutting down your device (particularly your computer) is good for it.

  1. It reduces system issues. It’s like a cleaning of the memory.
  2. It leads to a longer life because there’s less wear and tear.
  3. It’s more energy efficient, kinder and better for our stressed planet.

What you can do

  1. Shut down that device!

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10. I shut down and switch off power to as much general electronics (routers, chargers, TVs, etc.) as possible at night.

In the US, it’s estimated that devices that are on but not being used—vampire power—can account for up to 20% of a typical electricity bill. According to a 2015 study by the NRDC, energy use by inactive devices costs “$19 billion a year—about $165 per US household on average—and approximately 50 large (500-megawatt) power plants’ worth of electricity.”

It’s likely that everything that is plugged in is drawing some energy. Certainly, large devices that are “asleep” are drawing several watts. Even our phone charger uses some energy when it’s plugged in and not being used.

A US study found that the average US house has 65—yes, 65—devices permanently plugged into electrical outlets. It’s a lot of hassle to turn off or unplug 65 devices, so one approach is to use power racks / strips to plug your devices into. That way, you only need to switch off the power rack.

What you can do

  1. Switch off as much electronics as possible at night.
  2. Unplug electronics that you know you won’t be using for a long time.
  3. Get power racks / strips so that you can switch off lots of devices at once.

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11. I minimize notifications on my smartphone.

The less your phone is communicating, the less energy it’s using. Lots of apps are constantly in the background communicating back to their developer and also sending you a variety of notifications. Each notification requires some energy, so the fewer notifications the better, and it’s also much better for your mental wellbeing.

Know the worst offenders. Some apps (such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Google Maps, etc.) are particularly bad at draining your battery, so keep an eye on them.

What you can do

  1. Switch off as many notifications as possible.
  2. Be aware when your device is communicating in the background.

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12. I delete unnecessary apps.

The fewer apps you have, the less energy you will consume. Some apps are particularly heavy polluters. According to an article in Komando, the five apps that really drain your battery are:

  1. Facebook
  2. Google Maps
  3. Snapchat
  4. Facebook Messenger
  5. WhatsApp

95% of apps get little or no use a couple of months after they’ve been installed. So, make sure you don’t carry lots of deadweight on your phone that is draining your battery, either through updates or the app communicating back to its base.

What you can do

  1. Regularly review the apps that you have. If you’re not using them, delete them.
  2. Think long and hard before you download a new app.

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13. I try to keep phone battery life above 50%.

Keep your battery above 50% and ideally in the 50% to 80% range. Try and avoid letting it drain down into the red zone. A report in New York Magazine stated that, “When you consistently burn through 100 percent of your battery’s power, you’ll start to see your battery lose its ability to hold a charge after 300 to 500 cycles. But! If you use up only 50 percent of your battery before plugging it back into a charge, you can go 1,200 to 1,500 cycles before your battery starts to go into decline.”

An article in Wired stated, “Keeping your phone between 50 percent and 80 percent seems to be the sweet spot. And whenever possible, try not to let it dip below 20 percent.”

What you can do

  1. Recharge your phone whenever it reaches 50% battery power.
  2. Keep your phone between a 50% and 80% charge.
  3. Don’t let your battery go below 20%

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14. I try to use short charges for my phone battery.

Shorter charges are better. “The chemical reactions inside lithium-ion batteries are more comfortable with shorter charges and discharges, rather than being drained all the way down and then topped all the way up,” Wired states.

According to Battery University, “A lithium-ion battery doesn’t like to be fully charged. And it doesn’t like to be fully charged and warm. Combination of full charge and warm actually causes more stress than usage. If you’re in a car in summer, don’t put it on the dashboard. Put it on floor.”

What you can do

  1. Avoid charging your battery to 100%.
  2. Avoid getting your battery warm. Do not place it in direct sunlight.

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15. I avoid having my phone charging overnight.

It’s better not to charge your phone overnight as it doesn’t particularly like a 100% charge. And sleeping with as little electronics close to you as possible is a good thing. Battery University recommends that batteries prefer a charge range between 50% and 80%.

“If you leave the smartphone plugged in overnight, it is going to use a bit of energy, constantly trickling new juice to the battery every time it falls to 99%. That is eating into your phone's lifespan,” PC Magazine states.

What you can do

  1. Don’t charge your phone overnight.
  2. Aim to keep your battery between 50% and 80% charge.

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16. I charge my phone using a wire instead of a wireless charger.

Use a wire to charge your phone. It will use about 50% less energy than using a wireless charger. “Charging the phone from completely dead to 100% using a cable took an average of 14.26 watt-hours (Wh),” Eric Ravenscraft writes. “Using a wireless charger took, on average, 21.01 Wh. That comes out to slightly more than 47% more energy for the convenience of not plugging in a cable. In other words, the phone had to work harder, generate more heat, and suck up more energy when wirelessly charging to fill the same size battery.”

What you can do

  1. Always use a wire to charge your phone.

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17. I try to create digital content that uses the least energy possible (as little text as possible; text instead of images; images instead of videos; videos that are as short as possible).

The heavier digital is, the more pollution it creates. Imagine if you wanted to communicate to someone: “Thank you for your message.” Let’s assume that sending this message by SMS creates 1 unit of CO2:

So, choosing high-definition video to say “Thank you for your message” creates 82,000 times more pollution than sending the thank-you by SMS. Think before you send. What’s the weight of your message? Or do you even need to send it in the first place!?

Remember that old analog, ancient phone that lasted forever?

What you can do

  1. Always choose the digital format that consumes the least data, has the lightest weight.
  2. Choose not to communicate digitally. The best communication for the environment is the one you make without any machine.

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18. I have received enough training in creating shorter and fewer emails.

People are drowning in emails and other forms of communication, so the fewer and more concise emails you can send the better. Every day, there are about 300 billion emails being sent on a global basis.

According to our calculations, to write a three-minute email on a smartphone creates about 1 gram of CO2. If you write the same email on a 15-inch laptop, that could create 5 grams. Writing that email on a desktop could create more than 10 grams. And that’s just writing the email. We still have to add the CO2 caused by sending the email, storing it, and by people reading it.

Often, organizations don’t pay nearly enough attention to the soft skills that people need to use technology well. Professional communication skills take time, training and effort to acquire.

What you can do

  1. Make sure you get the right training to ensure you write fewer emails, and of a more concise and higher quality.
  2. If the training isn’t available, ask your manager. Too often, this is an area that is ignored by organizations.

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19. I have received enough training in creating shorter and more concise documents.

Don’t add to the data dump. We have produced more data in the last two years than in all of previous history. We are now in the era of the zettabyte. If you were to print out a zettabyte of data on paper, it would require cutting down 20 trillion trees, which would be difficult because there are only about 3.5 trillion trees left on the planet. By 2030, we should be approaching 2,000 zettabytes of data. Funny thing is, 90% of this data is crap. It’s never used three months after it’s created.

Being professional about minimizing the creation of documents, content and data is not an easy task. It requires skill, dedication, experience and training.

What you can do

  1. Make sure you get enough training to become the best professional you can when it comes to managing and organizing your content.
  2. Ask your manager about training and courses focused on how to create better quality content, how to create shorter documents, how to create less content.
  3. Remember, saying “No” is the greatest skill you can develop when it comes to deciding whether new content needs to be created or not.

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20. I have received enough training in being the most effective I can be in working in online collaborative groups.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a typical scientific paper had one author per published paper. By 2010, it was an average of five authors per paper. Not just that. "Researchers who work in more than one country have 40% higher average citation rates, while internationally collaborative papers have greater impact than domestic papers," the World Economic Forum wrote. In a complex world it makes sense to collaborate.

Collaboration is hard. It’s messy. It’s often very slow at the beginning. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for training and support in order to be a more effective collaborator. In analyzing large data environments over the years, we have found that wherever there are lots of silos there is lots of duplication and unnecessary data production. Wherever, in particular, there is lots of cross-discipline, multi-unit / department collaboration, we get less data and this data is of a much higher quality. In general, the more collaborative the organization, the better quality data it produces, and the less waste it’s creating.

90% of great collaboration is people skills, 10% is technology. And yet most organizations seem to think that it’s enough to buy the “right” technology and then everyone will magically start collaborating effectively. That won’t happen without the right skillset, culture and work practices.

What you can do

  1. Get trained in collaboration.
  2. Stick at it. Collaboration tends to pay the richest dividends in the medium to long term.
  3. Read as much as you can about effectively working in teams, particularly online teams.

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21. In relation to any of my emails, documents, files, etc., I keep them up to date by regularly maintaining, archiving or deleting.

It’s good for your health and good for the health of the planet to regularly archive old content and delete the unnecessary and out of date. Those who never delete or archive are hoarders and hoarding is unhealthy, unproductive and bad for the planet.

Archiving is something you should consider for the older content that you don’t want to delete but rarely use. Archival systems are much more energy efficient and thus create a lot less pollution. According to our analysis, depending on the type of archival solution you choose, it can create 150-300 less pollution than using a typical Cloud storage solution such as Dropbox. Of course, by far the most energy-efficient way to store things is on your own hard drive or on a portable drive. But learn to let go. We store far too much useless crap. Delete. Delete. Delete.

It’s hard to be exact but the CO2 costs for storing 1 gigabyte of data for a year in a service from Microsoft, Google or Dropbox can be 10-20 grams. Not much. We are now producing zettabytes of data every year. A zettabyte is 1,000,000,000,000 gigabytes. Storing a zettabyte of data for a year can create between 10 and 20 million tons of CO2.

What you can do

  1. At least every three months do a review of your data and see what can be archived or deleted.
  2. Every year do a thorough review.
  3. Make sure you also occasionally review your archive. Is there stuff in there that can now safely be deleted?
  4. In relation to your email:
  1. Don’t forget to delete the trash.
  2. Unsubscribe from all those useless subscriptions and marketing spam.
  3. Turn off social media notifications.
  4. Delete or archive emails that are more than two years old.

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22. I put appropriate metadata on everything I publish. (Metadata—keywords, tags—makes content more findable in search engines, and also supports classification.)

If you want your data and content to get found, you must have good metadata. “I love metadata” is not a good chat-up line, unfortunately. Metadata is boring. It’s what happens after the “creative” surge. It’s about organizing, structuring, classifying.

Most people see having to add metadata to their work as a type of cruel and unusual punishment. Don’t be one of them. Being good at metadata is one of the most essential and neglected skills of this or any other age. Without high-quality metadata, the usefulness of your data greatly declines. It’s less findable. It’s less useful. Talk to anyone in ecommerce about metadata. They will tell you how absolutely critical it is. In a digital world, poor metadata means your data is essentially invisible.

“Oh, we don’t need metadata, we don’t need to classify or organize because we’ve got Google.” Such a lame and fallacious statement. Do you think that the website that is first in Google organic results got there without having good metadata? No chance. No remote chance. Those who care about being found in Google, or in any other search engine, are absolutely relentlessly focused on metadata.

Metadata is part of the information architecture discipline, which is all about making information findable, navigable, understandable. As the quantity of data increases, the need for information architecture increases. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that AI or other fancy technology tools will do the heavy lifting work of properly organizing information.

What you can do

  1. Never publish anything on the Web or on an app without ensuring that it has proper metadata.
  2. Invest in developing your data / content organizational skills. Learn about structure, about classification, about the best way to organize folders.

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23. I make sure that any images and videos I’m responsible for are as compressed and optimized as possible.

Images, and in particular videos, are very heavy, and thus create lots more pollution than text. It’s estimated that 80% of Internet traffic is now video. Images, though, take up lots of space as well. On a typical webpage, it’s estimated that they can account for about 20% of the total weight, and on certain websites much, much more.

A not untypical website we examined had a homepage weight of 15.2 MB. With proper design, the page should have been less than 200 KB; 76 times lighter. Images made up 14.4 MB of the total weight; 95%! One of the images was 8.3 MB. This mega-polluting image had no value other than to “look good”. It didn’t explain anything. It didn’t illuminate anything. It was just a fancy stock image that the organization hoped would impress, look cool, enhance the brand. Such waste.

There’s rarely a reason to have an image greater than 100 KB on a website, and most images can look great at 20-40 KB. It just requires effort to properly optimize.

What you can do

  1. Really think before you use images or video. Are they truly necessary? Are they genuinely adding something?
  2. If you’re using video, really focus on making it as short as possible.
  3. Compress those images and make sure and choose the right format to save them in. Stay well under 100 KB, and ideally under 50 KB.
  4. Use lazy loading so that the image is not loaded until you scroll down to it.
  5. Consider image blurring, whereby only a blur of the image is initially loaded, and the person has to click on the image to see it at proper resolution.

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24. I try to minimize the use of video during online meetings and use audio instead.

Audio creates 90% less pollution than video. A one-hour audio call using Skype or Zoom is about 27 MB, whereas the same call using standard video is about 270 MB.

The most energy-efficient form of digital communication of all is SMS. Let’s say that you send a message saying “I’ll meet you at four” by SMS, and it creates 1 unit of CO2.” Let’s assume that sending this message by SMS creates 1 unit of CO2:

Lots of video-based meetings have also been found to be stressful. A Stanford University study of video chats found that:

  1. Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact are highly intense.
  2. Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real time is fatiguing.
  3. Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility.
  4. The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.

What you can do

  1. Spend the first five minutes in your online meeting with video so that you can greet people, then move to audio only.
  2. Only use standard definition video.
  3. Even better, phone.
  4. Even better, use text.
  5. Even better, only arrange or attend meetings that are genuinely necessary. Go for a walk.

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25. I am comfortable with the number of emails, meetings and other communications that I receive in my organization.

There are over 300 billion emails sent every day and who knows how many online meetings there are. It’s no surprise that many people feel stressed out because of the sheer volume of online communication happening.

It’s okay to feel stressed by communication overload. "Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these, consumes a lot of energy," an article from the BBC stated.

What you can do

  1. Make sure you set limits. You shouldn’t have to be constantly responding to emails and attending meetings at times outside your normal work hours.
  2. Don’t contribute to the communication stress by sending unnecessary emails or setting up online meetings at unnecessary, awkward times for others.

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26. I find it easy to find the right person to ask a question of or collaborate with.

If it’s difficult to find the right people to collaborate with that is a major issue, because the more complex the world becomes, the more we need to collaborate. Cross-functional, multi-disciplinary collaboration has been shown to deliver better science, better results, better solutions.

What you can do

  1. If you’re having problems finding the right people, see if there is training or support you can get.
  2. Try to regularly collaborate outside your discipline, department or peer group.
  3. Make sure you keep your own professional information up to date so that it is easy for others to find you.

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27. I find it easy to find content and other information on my organization’s intranet or other internal systems.

You are far from alone if you’re having problems finding the information you need on your organization’s intranet and internal systems. The organization of information has been greatly neglected, so it is no surprise that one of the most common complaints is that people find it difficult to locate important information on internal systems.

Many intranets are no more than disorganized digital junkyards full of stale and outdated content. This is because of technology-first solutions, a lack of purpose and objectives, and an almost total lack of interest from senior management. It all reflects a world where data and information are treated as a crude commodity rather than a valuable asset.

What you can do

  1. Raise the issue with management as they are often not aware of the challenges to finding information.
  2. Make sure that what you’re responsible for publishing is as up to date and as easy to find as possible.

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28. The information I find on my organization’s intranet is usually up to date.

Lack of proper management of internal information is a major scourge. A great many organizations have a launch and leave culture. Technology is bought but little attention is given to the ongoing maintenance of the information. This is a big problem and reduces trust and productivity.

Surveys have indicated that data scientists can spend up to 80% of their time cleaning and structuring data. And they’re usually dealing with semi-structured data to begin with. So much data that exists within organizations is in unstructured form. After it’s published, it’s hardly ever looked after. It just grows and grows into intranet junkyards and toxic data lakes.

In our experience of 25 years working on intranets, we have found that anywhere from 80% to 90% of the information on a mature intranet can be either out of date, duplicative or of very low value. It’s a struggle to find the right information.

Of course, all of this junk data creates CO2 when it’s stored.

What you can do

  1. Raise the issue of out-of-date information with management. Give examples.
  2. Make sure the information you’re responsible for is up to date.

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7 steps to improve your intranet content

The Impact of Poor Data Quality | ZoomInfo

29. The information I find on my organization’s intranet is usually short, concise, clear.

We often live in a Cult of Volume when it comes to information and content. Technology is great for data and information quantity, but it takes quality people to create quality content. Too often the ‘soft’ skills of editing and good writing are neglected, and the results are poor quality, verbose and overly long content that is difficult to read, understand and act upon.

We once did work for a bank intranet where they had a particular type of content called “circulars”. These circulars were full of unnecessary context and verbosity. Average reading time was three minutes. By shortening and simplifying the content, we were able to reduce reading time to 55 seconds. And you know what? When we tested staff on their understanding of the essential information contained in the circulars, those who had read the shorter, clearer content got better scores.

When you’re writing for digital you need to be even more precise and clear than for print, because on digital devices people tend to read faster. They scan read, hunting for the most essential information that they need to know. If they’re not getting the information they need in the first three-to-four words, they’ll scan on to the next sentence or paragraph.

What you can do

  1. Be a voice for content quality, for conciseness, for clarity. Explain to those whose information you need how it can be simpler, clearer, more precise.
  2. Make sure your own content is short, precise and clear.

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30. I try to focus on creating things that have lasting value.

The culture of digital is one of impermanence, convenience and transience. Nothing lasts. No digital design matters because we know that everything we design will be “redesigned” in a couple of years. No decision we make matters much because we can change everything whenever we want. This is a really wasteful culture and mindset.

Planned obsolescence is the standard industry practice: to design products deliberately to fail. This can be done in a myriad of subtle and clever ways, leaving no obvious fingerprints of guilt. Parts can be designed in a way that limits their life. Spare parts become unavailable. Manufacturers can refuse to release schematics. Special screws, welds or glues can be used that make repair almost impossible. Software updates can over time degrade the functionality of a device until at some point it becomes unusable.

The average life of a smartphone is estimated to be about 2.5 years. For a laptop, the UK Green Alliance estimated the average life to be 4.5 years. How long should you keep a laptop to properly account for the 300 kg of CO2 it created during manufacture? 20 years, according to the Green Alliance. We are consuming the earth’s resource at phenomenal rates because practically everything is now designed for short-term greed. We cannot possibly solve the climate crisis if we don’t start designing things to last. And that means everything: from our physical products, to our software, to our content.

What you can do

  1. Think long term: five years and beyond.
  2. Try to design and create things that have a chance of being around in five years.
  3. Think about the modularity and reusability of what you create, so that even if your specific creation does not last, then elements of it can be reused when something new is created.

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31. Things that I have created (content, images, code, etc.) have been regularly reused.

The more your stuff is reused, the more sustainable your work becomes because you are helping reduce the energy and waste associated with creation. Digital has resulted in an absolute explosion of creation and production. According to research we’ve done, 50% of the roughly 13 trillion photos taken since 1900 were taken in the last five years. This relentless explosion in creation is putting huge stress on the earth’s resources. Digital is the secret accelerator of the climate crisis.

Concepts such as renewable energy help, but don’t address the core challenge. We don’t have an energy production problem. We have an energy consumption problem. We create, consume and waste far too much. To address these existential challenges, new ideas are emerging such as degrowth and circular economy.

Degrowth is a philosophy of living well within much more constrained production and consumption environments. It points to the fact that true happiness, while requiring a certain minimal level of material comforts, does not require the wild growth engines that are destroying the conditions for life on the planet.

A defining characteristic of this ‘modern’ age is the explosion of toxic waste, from plastic to electronic waste. (We are dumping the equivalent of 1,000 laptops every second.) A circular economy is all about letting nothing go to waste. In a circular economy, we constantly reuse and turn the old into the new.

What you can do

  1. When you’re creating something, whether it is code, content, an image, video or whatever, think about how you might make it easier to reuse.
  2. Good metadata will always be part of reuse, because it’s the metadata that makes your stuff findable, and if it’s not findable, it’s not reusable.
  3. Think about modularity. Maybe not all of what you create can be easily reused, but maybe there are elements and modules that you are creating that others can take and put into their creation process.

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32. I regularly reuse things (content, images, code, etc.), rather than creating new stuff.

Reusing and repairing and holding onto things as long as possible are essential if we are to truly address the climate emergency. We must break away from the environmentally destructive culture of relentless creating and consuming. It’s great for the planet if you reuse. We must embrace circular economy thinking, and that means reusing as much as possible.

What you can do

  1. Always do your research before you create. Find out what’s out there.
  2. Reuse should always be the first thing you explore.

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33. I am judged by my manager based on the usefulness and quality of what I create, rather than on the quantity of what I create.

Too many organizations are stuck in a ‘Cult of Volume’ metrics culture. We cannot achieve true sustainability if we encourage endless production, if we constantly reward people based on what they have created.

We need a culture that rewards usefulness, that judges people not on the thing they produce but rather on the usefulness of that thing. We must measure ourselves based on outcomes, not output. Was the content or code we created helpful? Did it help other people do something useful?

An outcome-based metrics model is more sustainable, with less waste. An output-based model is production and growth driven and riven with waste.

I wrote a book about these ideas called Top Tasks. It’s about prioritizing the tasks that are most important and measuring how able people are to complete those tasks. It’s about measuring success based on whether people are successful at completing their top tasks, and how long it takes them. The objective is to help people complete their top tasks in the fastest possible time.

What you can do

  1. Embrace outcome-based metrics. Measure success based on how successful you make others.
  2. If your organization does not use outcome-based metrics, then ask your manager to consider them.
  3. If you’re a manager, then implement outcome-based metrics that measure usefulness.

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34. I would describe the culture of my organization as one of “continuous improvement” rather than “launch and leave”.

The launch and leave organizational culture is the one that creates the most waste. It’s obsessed with projects, and producing stuff, and getting stuff “delivered”. Much better to focus on quality and continuous improvement through maintenance, updating, testing and refinement.

We produce too much stuff.

What you can do

  1. Really think before you create. Is it really useful, what you are about to do?
  2. Maintain what you have created. Keep it up to date.
  3. Delete or archive what is no longer useful.

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