This Earth Day, Reduce Your Corporate Carbon Footprint with Data Minimization


As the world commemorates Earth Day, we reflect on steps we can take—both as individuals and as corporations—to help foster a sustainable future.

This Earth Day, we’re spotlighting an often-overlooked aspect of environmental sustainability within the corporate sphere: minimizing unstructured data to reduce carbon footprints. As digital data explodes, primarily driven by unstructured formats like documents, emails, images, and videos (which now make up 90% of all enterprise data), the environmental resources to store and manage that data have increased as well. Eco-conscious organizations looking to adopt sustainability initiatives should look to their data management strategies as part of these efforts.

Unstructured data minimization not only presents an opportunity for businesses to align with eco-friendly practices but also enhances operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness. By reevaluating how we manage, store, and dispose of unstructured data, businesses can take a pivotal step towards minimizing their environmental impact and embracing sustainability.

The Environmental Costs of Data Storage

The simplicity and affordability of cloud storage, especially compared to on-premises storage, have made it easier than ever for organizations to amass large volumes of data. Additional data no longer requires additional hardware (and physical space to store it). And with the advent of Generative AI, the world’s data is growing faster than ever.

But while organizations may only see increases in their annual cloud storage fees to accommodate this growth, the environmental costs of all this data—and the massive data centers it’s housed in—are mounting.

According to the International Energy Agency’s Electricity 2024 report, the world’s data centers consumed an estimated 460 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2022 and could reach more than 1,000 TWh by 2026. To put that into perspective, the Agency states that demand is roughly equivalent to the electricity consumption of Japan.

In the United States alone, data centers consumed more than 4% of the country’s total electricity in 2022. The IEA predicts that it will grow to 6% by 2026.

And it’s not just electricity consumption that has experts identifying data centers as a prime target for sustainability improvements. Data centers use vast amounts of water for cooling and emit CO2 at levels on par with the airline industry.

Data Minimization Carbon Footprint of Data Centers

The Role of Data Management in Green Initiatives

While much can be done to improve data center efficiency on a larger scale, organizations can make an impact through more sustainable data management practices.

A study by Carnegie Mellon University concluded that the energy cost of data transfer and storage is about 7 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per gigabyte. Storing 100 GB in the cloud creates a carbon footprint of 0.2 tons of CO2.

By storing less data—or moving more data to cold storage—we can reduce our overall contribution to the energy consumption and CO2 emissions these data centers are responsible for.

Steps to Reduce Your Storage and Carbon Footprint

  1. Conduct an audit of your existing data storage systems to analyze unstructured data
    According to Splunk, 55% of an organization’s data is dark data – or all of the unknown data stored across various systems. By assessing your unstructured data, you can illuminate that dark data, discover your files, and identify key information, including age and access, whether there are any unnecessary duplicates, and the sensitivity of the content. With those insights, you can unlock opportunities to reduce your overall storage capacity while reducing risks and lowering costs.
  2. Remove stale data and eliminate duplicates to reduce overall storage capacity
    It’s estimated that 30% of enterprise data is redundant, obsolete, or trivial (ROT)—likely a conservative estimate, given how much of an organization’s data is dark. Once you’ve identified the location and volume of data that you no longer need to store, simply purge it from your storage platforms and lower your overall storage capacity.
  3. Utilize storage optimization techniques like data tiering & archiving
    Not all data requires hot, active storage. Cold data that does not need to be accessed frequently is typically stored on unconnected, powered-off servers – which consume far less electricity and water than active servers that require constant uptime, cooling, and accessibility. By implementing data tiering, you can automatically migrate infrequently accessed and archival data to cold storage and reduce the energy required to manage that data.
  4. Implement and automate data retention policies to keep storage capacity low
    Develop a sustainable data management strategy with policies to monitor and proactively act on unstructured data By deploying an automated unstructured data management platform, you can continually execute these policies to reduce storage capacity and manage data as it grows and evolves – keeping both operational and environmental costs down.
  5. Encourage employee awareness and participation in minimizing data storage
    Building awareness of how digital waste impacts our physical world can inspire small changes that will make a large impact at scale. Help employees understand the environmental impact of data storage and provide guidance on how they can minimize their data both at work and at home.

Data Minimization to Reduce Carbon Emissions

Embrace Sustainable Data Management for Earth Day

The marriage of technology with environmental conservation is not only possible but increasingly imperative. On this Earth Day, take the opportunity to transform your organization’s unstructured data management practices and minimize unnecessary data. By doing so, you will lower your operational costs, reduce your carbon footprint, and play an active role in a more sustainable future.

Krystal Elliott
Krystal Elliott