GreenTech South West welcomed Gerry McGovern, Developer of the Top Tasks framework and author of World Wide Waste, to shine a light on how we can all consider the impact on the planet arising from our use of digital.
Gerry joined us on Thurs Dec 10th at 12.30pm and we caught up with him ahead of his talk.
How were you inspired to write World Wide Waste?
Gerry: My wife is an environmentalist and I was also inspired by Greta Thunberg and the young generation of activists. I wondered what I could do and initially I didn’t think I could do much because I worked in digital and I just automatically assumed that digital was green. But the more research I did the more I realized that digital has a dark side when I comes to the environment. When I talked to colleagues they didn’t know either. So I thought that maybe a book would be a good idea to raise awareness.
When you mention e–waste, could you give us some examples of what you mean?
Gerry: E-waste is all electronic waste from fridges to TVs, to screens, computers, smartphones. The amount of e-waste is exploding and the pandemic will drive it’s numbers up even higher. In 2014, there were about 40 million tons of e-waste created every year. That’s the equivalent of the weight of all commercial aircrafts ever built. By 2030, we could be producing almost 80 million tons of e-waste every year. And we recycle less than 20% of it. Much of the rest often ends up being dumped in poor countries. Even how we recycle is crude—shredding or burning. We really don’t deal with e-waste well at all.
Are there some practical things we can all do to reduce the amount of e–waste we produce?
Gerry: Simple. Don’t buy that new gadget that you don’t really need. Hold onto your devices as long as possible. Digital devices have a very energy-intensive manufacturing process. It’s estimated that up to 80% of the pollution caused by a particular device will be caused during its manufacture. So, if you throw away that device soon after you bought it, that’s absolutely terrible for the environment. According to a report by the UK Green Alliance, “If a phone is kept in use for at least five years, instead of the typical two to three years, the carbon impact per year of use could be cut by 50 per cent and the water impact could be halved.”
What are the most shocking examples of digital waste that you’ve come across?
Gerry: We have more than 10 billion smartphones. That’s shocking. We change smartphones more often than we change t-shirts. It’s not just physical digital waste. 90% of data is not used three months after it’s collected or created. Data waste is exploding even faster than e-waste, and this is going to create major environmental and privacy issues, because much of this data is about us—you and me. We need to seriously ask ourselves why we create and collect so much data when 90% of the time we don’t use it. We urgently need to start deleting and cleaning up our data. Better still, we should pause and reflect before we write code or content, before we set that ravenous tracking analytics engine running. Less data means less devices, servers, etc., so less data means less data waste and less e-waste.
Do you think big corporations and tech giants are doing enough in this area?
Gerry: No. The idea that the entities that deliberately created the e-waste and data waste mess are going to get us out of it is illusory. Waste is the beating heart of Silicon Valley. Innovation and change are huge waste drivers. Planned obsolescence, growth hacking—it’s all part of a culture of greed, of getting rich in the quickest possible way, while spinning to the world how cool, renewable and environmental tech is. We need a huge shift in government regulation but that’s a challenge because the government is often in the pocket of tech. I’m afraid it starts with us, as citizens or professionals to change our behavior, to resist the shiny toy allure of tech, to resist the false and misleading idea that everything must change quickly. We must design and make things to last. We must think 5 years ahead, 10 years ahead, 20 years ahead. These are minuscule timeframes but in our crazy, fake world of relentless “innovation”, 10 years away seems almost impossible to get our heads around. We are trapped in digital speed. We are addicts of change. We must calm down, breathe more, think more, enjoy more, create less but of higher quality, consume less so that we can experience more.
Thank you Gerry for the chat.