How can corporations reduce digital carbon footprints

How can corporations reduce digital carbon footprints

The “What are Digital Carbon Footprints” explored the environmental impact of our digital lifestyles. In that we discovered that even though many digital technologies offer a much lower carbon footprint compared to physical alternatives, such as e-signatures vs printed and mailed documents, digital does have a carbon footprint and it is one that cannot be ignored. Globally, the current best estimates put the internet’s carbon footprint at approximately 1.7bn tonnes in 2020. Which, if the internet were a nation, would put it in fourth place behind China, the USA and India in terms of global emissions. Yet, since digital is often much less tangible than the physical counterparts we run the risk of believing it to be carbon free.

The truth is, digital is simply not carbon free, and even though many transactions might be small, the cumulative scale of these adds up significantly. Digital technologies are responsible for carbon emissions from their creation, through to their use and disposal, and their sustained exponential growth will continue to result in growth in carbon emissions. Legal practices are not exempt from this trend. In an ongoing effort to reduce spending on outside counsel, most law departments are turning to technology to streamline processes and realise efficiencies as more work is brought in-house. In doing so and in the face of enhanced ESG scrutiny, it is imperative that law firms and legal departments understand the additional carbon liability that their digital dependency carries. The remaining sections of this article explore the opportunity presented by understanding and acting on our corporate digital footprints. This opportunity can be summarised in two high-level categories.

On one hand, a focus on reductions in digital carbon footprints can have a near term material impact on costs and emissions, as well as having other, less obvious positive consequences across a workforce such as overcoming climate hesitation and helping address eco-anxiety

On the other hand, organisations that act to curb digital emissions now, set themselves on a better trajectory to achieving and maintaining Net Zero strategies, thereby enhancing their competitive standing today, and tomorrow.

Cloud helps extend personal computer lifetime use.

When it comes to mitigating our total digital carbon footprints, procurement has an important role to play. As mentioned in the What Are Digital Carbon Footprints article, 80% of a technology asset’s lifetime carbon is baked into the asset before it’s even turned on. This is known asembodied carbon. The remaining 20% comes from the carbon emissions associated with the energy burnt when using those assets; theoperationalcarbon emissions.
So before we dive into the specifics of the cloud’s carbon dioxide (and equivalent) emissions (CO2e), let’s spend a moment to look at how the cloud can help us on the journey to reduce emissions through more responsible technology procurement. Around 2016 there was a tipping point in cloud technologies, and their growth curve sped up rapidly. Before this, personal computing devices such as laptops and desktop computers needed their processors, memory and hard-disks to be updated at regular intervals in order to keep up with the demands of new software. Fuelled by a parallel growth of cheap, near-ubiquitous connectivity, cloud adoption soared, sifting processing power and storage capabilities from laptops and desktops to the network, or cloud. This shift ushered in a new computing paradigm for organisations of all sizes. This also changed the role of personal computers, moving them more towards input and display devices, becoming less prone to the evolving software demands – provided an opportunity to extend personal computing asset lifetime and mitigate the digital carbon footprint of newly acquired technology.
If we can extend the lifetime use of an asset, we can reduce the need to purchase new equipment and therefore tackle 80% of our digital carbon footprints before it even enters our businesses. This embodied carbon is also important when we think about the carbon emissions of the cloud technologies we use, so let’s look at that now.

What can law firms do to tackle digital carbon footprints?

When it comes to determining an organisation’s digital carbon footprint one of the biggest challenges revolves around data and information.

First, we must seek to gain an ever-improving snapshot of the organisation’s carbon status quo, or “carbon baseline”. At Jalubro we call this Carbon Footprinting.

Second, we must raise awareness that although digital has many significant benefits, it does carry with it a carbon cost.

Developing the baseline

When it comes to determining an organisation’s digital carbon footprint one of the biggest challenges revolves around data and information.

In our previous article, we noted that 80% of our digital carbon footprints are embodied in the products we purchase and use. This results from the emissions created during manufacture and shipping of those devices.It is therefore essential that when determining law firms’ digital carbon footprint we look at Scope 1, 2 and Scope 3 emissions.Once developed, the baseline should be used across the business to set reducing carbon budgets, which cascade through organisational layers and are used in similar ways to financial budgets – facilitating decision making, accountability, and incentivisation.

It should be noted, though, that since carbon emission data, especially through supply chains, has not yet reached maturity so is often sparse or rudimentary. That means that any baseline we can create can only be as good as the currently available information, and we must commit to improving this over time.

Raising awareness, digital carbon literacy

In order to make sustainable change across firms, legal teams need to develop a greater understanding that digital is not carbon free. Addressing this means raising awareness that changes in how we purchase, how we use and how we dispose of our digital technologies all have an impact on carbon footprints across the entire business. We can be approach this from different perspectives:


Develop and integrate carbon baselines, ‘carbon incrementals” and carbon budgets into management decision making and incentivisation.


Set carbon reduction challenges between teams and departments which encourage further understanding of technology and energy utilisation.


Include digital carbon measurements and targets as part of the broader sustainability communications, as well as individual reward and recognition for reduction achievements.

Ideas for reducing an organisation’s digital carbon footprint

There are also smaller, more easily achievable changes that can be made at an individual level. These changes deliver carbon reductions that are comparatively much smaller in their own right than a firm-wide big-budget project, but when multiplied across a workforce, they can lead to significant savings; carbonandenergy.

On one end of the spectrum there are capital-intensive projects that can take significant effort to deploy, yet yield immediate impact across a wide scale – such as developing, or switching to renewable energy sources across entire estates, or incorporating increasingly greater proportions of remanufactured IT equipment into procurement refresh and purchase cycles.

There are also smaller, more easily achievable changes that can be made at an individual level. These changes deliver carbon reductions that are comparatively much smaller in their own right than a firm-wide big-budget project, but when multiplied across a workforce, they can lead to significant savings; carbon and energy.

Here are a few ideas of initiatives that both firms and departments can undertake to begin to measure and reduce their company-wide digital carbon footprints.

Small Energy:

“Small energy” is the energy required to power smaller electrical equipment such as phone chargers, printers, computers, monitors and other office equipment.

Research shows that more than 20% of an office building’s energy consumption can be attributed to these devices. Details in the report indicate that leaving just 10 desktop computers in stand-by mode out-of-hours could generate 145 kWhs of electricity to simply do nothingUsing to get the real-time carbon intensity of the UK’s National Grid (270gCo2e/kWh), 145 kWhs converts to 39 kg or carbon. 

That’s just 10 computers, try scaling that to a few hundred or thousand. Then add in the cost of less-efficient appliances such as printers and vending machines. It begins to add up very quickly.

There are systems that can be installed across buildings and campuses to keep track of these “energy vampire” devices and automate their switching off and on. One such example is from a company called Measureable. energy, who appeared on the BBC to talk about the problem, and how their solution also indicates how “green” the energy is that is currently coming out of the socket.

These systems require investment and planning, but can automatically have a scale across entire buildings.

We can also make sure that energy efficiency is a crucial buying factor for purchasing and that during day to day business we look for opportunities to reduce energy consumption. A few less-obvious examples include:

As an example, new monitors should have their brightness levels turned down from typically high >90% factory defaults to usable, but energy saving levels around 50-60%.
Mobile devices with OLED displays should have dark-mode enabled by default, as this can save up to 30% of the battery lifeand therefore increase the time between recharges.Laptops should be provisioned to utilise energy saving modes and to encourage powering-off when not in use.
Jalubro’s Energy Management service is designed to help law firms discover opportunities to reduce emissions through a focus on elimination of wasted energy.


While future versions of 5G will deliver significant energy optimisation benefits, WiFi is currently often more efficient than cellular communications, especially where mobile phone coverage is patchy.
Organisations should look to optimise the WiFi networks for energy efficiency and make them both ubiquitous across their buildings and grounds, and easily accessible for visitors.
This requires careful planning and IT policy development to ensure WiFi networks remove login barriers to become the default data carrier for the thousands of potential users.
The cost of mobile data has reached a price-point that it’s often not worth the bother of trying to login to a WiFi network if it’s just data that will be saved. Organisations therefore need to find the right incentives to ensure users actually connect.
That could be through one-time logins and other ease-of-access approaches, or through other benefits such as ease of access to corporate systems or workplace benefits.

On Premises Data Centres:

There are many sizeable investments that can be made to optimize energy usage, and therefore carbon emissions of on-premises data centres. There are also a number of small, more easily accessible best practices that can have significant impacts.

Corporations can seek support from organisations such as CEEDA and DEEP to become more sustainable. However, there are some quick win best practices that data centre managers can investigate that relate to air flow.

Improving air flow can increase cooling efficiency and therefore reduce the amount of energy and emissions associated with non-computation overheads of the centre.


Cloud has been a game changer for digital transformation but from a digital carbon footprint perspective it can suffer from “out of sight out of mind” syndrome. When it comes to reducing carbon footprints of cloud technologies, there are three things to consider:


The Stanford Magazine suggests that storing 100 gigabytes of data in the cloud could be responsible for approximately 0.18 to 0.2 tonnes of CO2 per year. Across a corporation, there are many ways chunks of 100GB could easily add up, such as unwanted laptop or mobile backups, duplicated files, remote desktop snapshots for ex-employees, out of date documents, contracts and shared files.

According to education technology experts, Jisc, only 6% of cloud data is regularly used. That means 94% of your cloud data storage is potentially not necessary or can be moved to offline storage mechanisms. Storing data unnecessarily in the cloud also carries with it unnecessary carbon costs associated with the communication of that data, too.

Data Communications

Calculating the environmental cost of a byte of data in transit is a highly variable and complex equation that must consider a significant number of externalities and temporal variations. However, a global team of data scientists collaborated to create a simplified model that estimates the transmission of 1GB of data to be equal to 419g of CO2e. (based on the current carbon intensity of the UK’s National Grid, as cited above).

If only 6% of every 100GB stored in the cloud is used, that would equate to almost 40 kgs of needlessly generated CO2e.


This is probably the easiest to understand activity of cloud computing – energy is expended when cloud apps are used. That energy will increasingly be provided by renewable sources, but not exclusively for quite a while. Beyond energy, the more the cloud providers have to scale to provide capacity for unnecessary computing, the more hardware they need, and therefore the more hardware they need to purchase, and the more embodied carbon they are needlessly building into their data centres.

Tips for Reducing Digital Carbon Footprints

Here at Jalubro, we take digital carbon footprints seriously.

Our mission is to help law firms and legal departments establish, build and implement lasting, sustainable digital transformation.Today, more than ever, Net Zero is a critical component of any future-looking decision, with  digital carbon being a central and increasingly important pillar within that.Our suite of Net Zero services are designed to help law firms accurately measure and report emissions across their entire business from Scope 1 & 2 through to their supply chain and Scope 3 – laying a path to the future, while increasing competitive position today.

Discover more about our Net Zero services here