Eco-Labelling – The Green Argument For Information Classification

It seems that if you are promoting a product or service these days, it’s mandatory to have an associated “Green Story” to back up your proposition. Earning cold hard cash for the benefit of both you and your customer is in some circumstances frowned upon, if there isn’t an ethical eco-friendly angle to your pitch.  While I support green initiatives and do what I can to help with moves to improve the sustainability of the planet, hasn’t it all gone a bit eco-mad.

Those fabled 3 letters, E C O , are being used and abused by all and sundry to get that green tickbox filled. Whether a product in environmentally friendly or not, the ECO label gets thrown around like confetti at a wedding. We have Eco-Homes, Eco-Heaters, Eco-Computers, Eco-Laptops, Eco-Cars, Eco-Trucks… you name it we have it. In a shameless attempt to look more trendy, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring and talk briefly about how appropriate labelling of documents and emails can help save the planet. Eco-Labelling for short.

I’m sure at some point you will have received an email with an nicely formatted footer, which cordially requests that you don’t print the email on paper and read it on screen. This helps save paper and in turn trees.  What you may not realise is that every email/document, sent or received, needs to be stored somewhere and the storage device uses electricity.  The more information that is stored, the bigger the required storage device and the more electricity is needed.

On an individual basis in our homes, electricity use may be negligible and stored information is managed by the owner. Old videos, pictures, documents and emails are usually cleared out periodically as storage starts getting tight.  In the work place, it is no so negligible and it’s also much harder to manage. Due to stringent legal requirements, most organisations must keep certain types of data for specific periods of time. For example, in the UK financial data should be stored by companies for at least 7 years.

In order to fulfil these legal requirements, document stores or archives are implemented to centralise data, where it can be easily retrieved if needed.  The problem is, how do we know what needs to be archived and for how long?  If we have our data spread across desktops through-out the enterprise, or distributed across many different individuals corporate email mailboxes, how can we distinguish between things that should be kept and things that shouldn’t.  A lack of capability in this area, usually forces organisations to take an “archive everything” approach.  What this means is that we’re essentially having to store absolutely everything.  This may seem like a reasonable approach, but 90% of the information we would be storing, doesn’t need to be stored at all.  Stored data would include old documents which are no longer relevant or needed. It would also include personal emails and documents that are on each users desktop.  When Bob sends John the 2Megabyte image of his giant cock.. again, do we really want to be paying to store that email for the next 7 years?

This image is Safe For Work, It’s a painting of a man standing next to a giant chicken.

 The answer, is no. Now imagine an organisation with ten thousand Bobs and ten thousand Johns. That’s a lot of emails.

To manage our information more effectively, we need to start applying some structure to what can be considered unstructured data. To do that we need to categorize the type of information contained in the email/document and we do that through information classification. By applying an appropriate label to information we can make decisions about how we will treat that information. Most archives have the ability to understand document meta-data (or labels) and make decisions on what to do based on that label. It can decide whether or not to store the document in the archive, and if it does, what the retention policy should be.

Not only would implementing labelling save the organisation money on storage device costs, but also on electricity.. that’s our win-win right there. We’re saving the company money and also helping save the planet, one email at a time.  If you work in IT, Eco-Labelling could mean a promotion for you, seriously. Just don’t run into the CEO’s office shouting that you have a great idea and picture of a giant cock.

If you would like to explore this in more depth (i.e. with sensible figures and explanations), you can find a whitepaper here:

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