Greening the Internet − technology and sustainability in a post-pandemic world

Our daily lives have been turned upside down with the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic on 11 March 2020. Since then, many of us have been navigating unknown waters, going from a strict lockdown to a mild lockdown to a gradual reopening that raises questions about when will be able to go back to ‘normal’ and if that is to happen at all.

Amid this crisis, environmentalists have stepped back to give space to the crisis response. But now thoughts about adapting the new realities and concerns for sustainability and human rights have naturally emerged.

In building back better – toward a more sustainable and inclusive world − the key is to understand how we can leverage these disruptions for good.

Inspiring a green and ethical lifestyle

To show alternatives to current consumption patterns and lifestyle choices, the International Trade Centre’s Innovation Lab already introduced its ‘Green Stories for Lunch’ series in 2019. By organizing interactive and inspirational talks over lunch, the initiative aims to inspire the ITC’s employees to adopt a more ethical and green lifestyle to minimize their environmental footprint. It also aims to help them apply this sensibility to their work helping micro, small and medium-sized enterprises from developing countries to trade internationally.

So far, sessions have included a story on how to go zero waste, told by the founder of Zero Waste Switzerland Dorinda Philips, and a story on sustainable fashion, told by the Loopers, a Geneva-based initiative aiming to provide alternatives to fast fashion clothing waste.

Learning from Ecosia.org

As the COVID-19 crisis hurled many people − more or less overnight − into a digital environment, the topic of the next Green Story was a no-brainer: a session on technology and sustainability that would zoom in on how choices made online affect the world offline. And as this story would be a virtual one − why limit it to a Geneva-based guest speaker and a Geneva-based audience? With that in mind, the initiative turned to a real veteran of sustainable technology for its next event on 15 July 2020: Christian Kroll, founder and CEO of Ecosia.org.

Ecosia is an alternative internet search engine vowing to plant a tree for every online search. It realizes this promise by donating 80% or more of its advertising revenue to reforestation projects across the world. With more than 15 million active users, Ecosia has just reached the mark of 100 million trees planted since its inception in 2009. Christian Kroll will share his story of setting up this remarkable project in a market dominated by internet giants, reflect on what should guide technology in the 21st century and offer insights in a Q&A session.

Engaging with your digital carbon footprint

The story of Ecosia is only one of many inspiring stories of how technology can be applied to sustainability challenges. As we have witnessed an unanticipated shift into the digital working environment, now is the time to get to know these stories by seeking out the most sustainable path in the technological world. Many of us are already aware of the ethical and environmental repercussions of using such technology as smartphones, laptops and tablets continue to rely on rare metals, are emission-heavy in production and often replaced as soon as a new model enters the market.

Yet, many blind spots still exist around the digital realm. Already, the use of digital services − everything from streaming a movie to sending an email − is responsible for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, equal to the aviation industry, according to The Guardian. If we fully want to reap the benefits of a digital economy and turn it into an instrument to address the most pressing challenges of the 21st century, we must adopt a new, conscientious approach to digital consumption. That means actively engaging with our digital carbon footprint and understanding that every action in the virtual realm has real, material consequences in the non-virtual world. We can all play our part. From adjusting power and brightness settings on our devices to mindfully copying colleagues in emails to selecting the most environmentally friendly streaming or search platform – a better alternative is only a mouse-click away!

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