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Week 0: Create a sustainable online society!

Matt Carney

When we enter the digital world, we leave as big of a carbon footprint there as we do anywhere else.

Every action we take part in or product we buy has a carbon cost. This is the amount of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere by the production, transport, and disposal of that item. Most of us are aware of this concept as we go about our lives and where possible try and make lower carbon options. It’s quite easy to understand that buying local fruit and veg is probably a better choice than something that has flown around the world wrapped in plastic packaging, or that putting on a jumper might be better than turning up the heating!

What is much trickier to visualise is our digital carbon footprint. Have you ever thought of the carbon cost of sending a WhatsApp message or saving all those holiday snaps to the cloud?

When we look at the carbon footprint of a large institution like Manchester Metropolitan we find that the carbon cost of computing and digital services is one of the largest contributors! This is probably quite surprising! Most of us probably think about avoiding wasting paper but we probably don’t think about wasting cloud storage when we save our work!

To reach a net-zero future we need to reduce our carbon footprint, both on the personal level and, more so at the institutional level. The first step in this is awareness. We all need to consider our digital carbon footprint as much we consider our real world impact.

This project gives you a space and a team to have a positive impact on the digital community by investigating the environmental impact of digital habits. A more detailed project brief will be provided in the next section!

First up, How does the project work?

This project will take place over six weeks and involve guided group work to create an idea that you will present at the end of the project.

Each week will consist of a scheduled meeting with a series of short tasks with guidance on what you will need to work on with your team on before the next session. You will also be provided with resources to support you in creating and delivering your idea.

At the end of this project you will present your idea as a prototype that you could implement following this project.

This project gives you a space to create and play with different ideas! You should aim to be as creative as you can, and your ideas and solutions can be as ambitious or as practical as you would like! You will get the most out the project by being engaged, passionate and keeping up good communication with your team.

At the end of each section like this click ‘mark complete’ below to move onto the next section.

1.2 Your Problem Brief – Ecotech

This section provides the brief for this project. You should read through this carefully and think about how your motivation and expertise fit into this project challenge.


The digital industry, including data centres and personal devices, make a larger impact on the environment than people may first think. This problem has many facets too, from energy usage, to e-waste, increased reliance on digital devices, file management, internet usage, or digital communication.

Greener computing and greener digital habits are important steps towards reducing environmental impact in an increasingly digital world.

In this project, you and your team will become Echo-tech champions and work to inform, motivate and empower your university community to make digital spaces more sustainable. Think about what skills, knowledge, and passions you have and how you can use this to champion green computing in Manchester.  

During this project, you will scope out an idea or initiative that you could implement at Manchester Met to encourage greener computing and impact how communities within the university use and interact with digital spaces. With the help of internal and external partners, you can then make your plan a reality and bring real change!

Starting Prompts

These questions are provided to give you some starting points to think about. They are by no means exhaustive, and you should feel free to go in your own direction, but they should give you some ideas to consider.

  • How do different parts of the community use and interact with digital spaces?
    • What does it mean to exist and interact in digital spaces?
    • Would better communication improve the perceived value of changing digital habits?
    • Are there any language, cultural, or accessibility barriers that prevent groups from developing greener digital habits? How can you break down these barriers?
    • How can you use greener computing to bring together the community and create cohesion between different groups to build a more sustainable digital space at Manchester Met?
  • How can you identify and communicate the value of greener computing to the diverse community at Manchester Met?
    • Who is your audience, staff, students, procurement teams, ICT, anyone else who might access digital spaces at Man Met?
    • Why do you think people don’t consider the environmental impact of their digital habits when using online spaces?
    • Lots of material has been published on greener computing – but what do you think is missing that would encourage your audience to change their habits? You could do some research or see the links below to investigate this?
  • What facet of greener computing will you focus on? Have a look at some of the practical aspects below.
    • Energy Efficiency – Do you know if it’s more energy efficient to pay by cash or card? Or to run excel or Google Sheets? Or to watch Netflix or Amazon Prime? Or a Mac vs a PC? Have a think about the decisions you make regarding technology in your everyday life and consider them through the lens of sustainability. You don’t need to answer all these questions, but getting people to consider the environmental impact of their every digital habits is a great way to get started.
    • Data Storage – Although the transition to paperless living has been a step towards a more sustainable future, we should consider the environmental impact of every person storing thousands of documents and images online. How might you encourage people to reduce their unnecessary online data storage? Thinking about your own habits is a good first step – how many old emails are in your inbox? Can moving documents to hard drives help?
    • Efficient Internet usage – How can you empower and promote efficient energy usage when browsing online? Is it always necessary to google something? Do you NEED all those tabs open? Are there more sustainable options than Google?
    • Responsible consumption and reducing E-waste – How might you encourage the purchasing of eco-friendly or second-hand devices or simply making do without the latest upgrade? How do you encourage people to dispose and recycle devices responsibly?
    • Sustainable Data Centres – How might you encourage the use of green hosting for websites and cloud services?
    • Education and Advocacy – How will you inform people about the environmental issues related to technology? Or support policies and initiatives that promote sustainable technology practices?

Did any of these prompts make you question your own digital habits? Perhaps that might be good inspiration to get started on your project!

1.3 What are you bringing to the project?

Before starting the project, it is worth conducting some self reflection on what you are bringing to the project and what you hope to gain from it.

Even if you feel like you don’t have any expertise in using digital spaces (you probably do!) just by being here you have displayed a motivation for this kind of work!

Below are some questions to reflect on before you meet your team. You may want to jot a few answers down to bring to your first team meeting.

Regarding your own expertise, you might want to return to the project brief.

  • What motivated you to join this project?
  • How can you use your degree specific skills and knowledge to address the problem brief? Think creatively!
  • Do you have any skills or knowledge from any other areas of your life, like hobbies or work, that you can bring to the project?
  • Do you have any personal connections to the issues raised by the project brief?
  • What is the first idea that came to mind when you read the project brief?

1.4 Starting Resources

If you need some ideas, you can explore some of the resources below: