Earth from Apollo 17, 1972
PHOTO: New York Public Library

Digital is physical. Every byte is supported by an atom. Every single action in digital costs the Earth energy. Turn the electricity off and you turn digital off. Digital is demanding an increasing share of the Earth’s energy and resources and is a major contributor to the generation of toxic trash, to a culture of disposability, convenience and the most wasteful behavior ever seen in human history.

Used wisely, digital could be saving our planet, making things more productive and efficient, and more environmentally friendly, while improving living standards. Right now, however, digital is killing our planet, creating enormous quantities of physical and data waste, and generating more and more useless innovation. We have become addicts to convenience and speed.

Digital is not green. In 1994, there were 3,000 websites. Today, there are 1.7 billion, almost one website for every three people on the planet. Not only has the number of websites exploded, the weight of each page has also skyrocketed. Between 2003 and 2019, the average webpage weight grew from about 100 KB to about 4 MB.

Wow. I’m part of all this. It only struck me about a year ago that digital is not neutral when it comes to climate change. Digital is a polluter. It is an accelerant of bad, lazy behavior. There’s something we can do about it. We can create cleaner digital. We can create digital designs that do the least harm to the environment.

We need to do less search engine optimization and more Earth optimization. We need to start asking about how much pollution our content and code is creating and how we lessen that pollution.

For too long digital has operated without any real constraints. I write this on a large screen that is connected up to my laptop. I feel a bit ashamed. I don’t really need such a large screen. I certainly don’t need two screens. This all costs energy. So much of how I’ve worked has involved wasting energy.

We struggle within organizations that have a voracious appetite for more of everything. We must struggle more to ensure that our organizations first do no more damage to this precious and hurting planet. Do we need this new app, this new feature? Do our customers need it? Do we need all the pages on our websites? Do we need to store all the data that we need to store?

In April I will publish "World Wide Waste," a book which examines how digital is killing our planet — and what we can do about it. From now on, I intend to focus as much as possible on helping nourish a cleaner, greener digital.

I’m asking for your help. This will be the most important book I’ve published. I need help to get the word out as much as possible. If you can help to promote in any way the ideas within "World Wide Waste," I would truly appreciate that.

I used to think that the user/customer experience was everything. But it’s nothing if we don’t have a good Earth experience.