Digital carbon footprint awareness among digital natives: an exploratory study


  • Vahiny Gnanasekaran
  • Helga T. Fridtun
  • Herborg Hatlen
  • Mats M. Langøy
  • Anine Syrstad
  • Sruti Subramanian
  • Katrien De Moor


Changes in use practices due to COVID-19 have illustrated the potential of digital technology as a catalyst of more sustainable and pro-environmental behavior. At the same time, the energy consumption and environmental impact of digital applications and services has been put more firmly on the agenda. In this paper, we adopt a bottom-up approach to explore digital natives’ awareness of their digital carbon footprint, i.e., related to their use of digital services and applications. We present findings from 21 semi-structured in-depth interviews that were conducted to explore (1) to which extent digital natives are aware of and reflect on their digital carbon footprint, (2) what could motivate efforts to reduce this footprint and (3) which compromises they might be willing to make in this respect. The findings point to low awareness of the carbon footprint of digital applications and services. The lack of technological understanding, public information and social awareness about the topic were identified as important factors. In terms of the motivation for adopting pro-environmental digital habits, we found that several factors indirectly contribute to this goal, including the striving for personal wellbeing. Finally, the results indicate some willingness to change and make compromises, albeit not an unconditional one: the alignment with other goals (e.g., personal well-being) and nature of the perceived sacrifice and its impact play a key role. With this work, we aim to strengthen ongoing efforts to increase users’ awareness and to stimulate more sustainable and well-being supporting digital consumption.