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Delete Data, Save the Environment

  • eDiscovery
  • 4 Mins

Incorporating data deletion practices into information governance initiatives provides many operational and cost-saving benefits. Retention policies should address what type of data to keep, for how long, and which devices employees can use for business purposes. Factors such as compliance obligations, workflows, and case needs will influence policies. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a great tool that can be used for data deletion decisions. For example, AI-based reduction for eDiscovery provides legal teams with a more focused data set, saves resources, pinpoints key issues quicker, and streamlines resolutions.

Less data leads to better organization, lower storage costs, fewer documents to review during a case or investigation, freed up resources, and dark data reduction. This also provides valuable environmental benefits that often go overlooked.

Data’s Influence on the Environment

Many people do not think about the physical presence data has in our world. While sending emails or texts instead of snail mail cuts down on paper usage, this data still exists somewhere on a physical server requiring energy sources to operate. A ton of unneeded data lives on devices and in cloud storage taking up space and energy. Think about all of the spam or subscription emails sitting in various inboxes. In 2020, Good Planet concluded that the average American has 500 unread emails consuming energy and producing extra carbon dioxide. This is just looking at one data source, and emerging technologies will only increase the amount of data present in the world. With organizations leveraging new tech and operating off hybrid models, it is crucial for those that have committed to prioritizing environmental initiatives to think about how their business practices tie into their overall carbon footprint. Simply put, less data means reduced server space, resulting in decreased energy usage. Being proactive with information governance and AI implementation can advance this goal.

Four Data Reduction Tools

Data deletion and reduction are strategic factors that most organizations consider to some degree. Here are practices to implement or strengthen that will not only enhance operations and efficiency, but also reduce an organization’s carbon footprint.

  1. Retention protocols: Information governance is an ongoing effort to manage information from multiple perspectives with multiple objectives. There is always room for improvement. Organizations should reevaluate retention policies once a year (if not more frequently) to factor in compliance, stale data, migration needs, duplicative files, and similar concerns. Consider environmental goals as a part of this process to further refine retention processes. For example, look into whether employees are saving the same document or graphic in several locations. Addressing matters like this will declutter internal storage while also lessening the impact that saving multiple copies has on the planet.

  2. Communication controls: Email and instant messaging are common places where data builds up, thus requiring more physical server storage. Analysts have found that the average office worker receives 121 emails per day, which equates to 0.6 tons of CO2e a year. Having policies around deletion and subscription allowance for work emails and messaging systems are simple strides that can contribute to less fossil fuel usage resulting from the energy needed to power data storage centers. Automating deletion after a certain timeframe on messaging systems is a good option to explore. Email oversight is a little trickier to automate, as so much content variety exists in a person’s inbox. Training and management check-ins on compliance would be helpful tools in this area.

  3. Early Case Assessment: Legal teams have been using TAR and similar tools for years during the eDiscovery review phase. A new trend is leveraging AI tools at the outset of a case or investigation to cull datasets and focus review. This eliminates unnecessary data to host, review, and exchange with opposing parties. Legal teams are also able to uncover insights that aid with settlement negotiations, case strategy, and valuation. The downstream effect can help close matters quickly and efficiently while also saving energy. In 2020, Data Center Knowledge reported that data centers use about one percent of all electricity in the world each year. Increased digitization will only make this percentage larger, so any small effort can contribute to making a difference.

  4. Other AI avenues: There are many innovative AI solutions that can help solve various business challenges while also reducing data. For example, using AI when migrating to the cloud can ensure that only documents designated with business use, under legal hold, or needed for compliance move to the storage platform. Automated tools that can classify data will help determine what to keep and what to toss. Also look for cloud providers that build sustainability into their models when vetting potential partnerships, as the provider’s efforts will translate to the organization.

Determining where process gaps exist can also shine light on where organizations can use AI to reduce human error and improve efficiency. Layering tools for a case or investigation will accomplish tasks faster with more precision. Other areas to explore include contract management, contract analysis, and privacy compliance. Simply put, less data to review and human intervention will ultimately save on energy. Building environmental concerns into workflows can also provide opportunities for AI-generated data insights that illustrate whether an organization is meeting goals for reducing its carbon footprint. This provides a basis for auditing, extra training, and changed processes to continuously improve sustainability efforts.


Through the mechanisms above, organizations can reduce their carbon footprint while also transforming business practices, advancing efficiency goals, and meeting compliance obligations. This is a win-win situation with opportunity for growth. Remember that education and oversight are crucial to success and new habit formation throughout the organization. Use data insights to benchmark progress and help effectuate change. Organizations on transformation journeys are likely already advancing these steps, however being aware and building sustainability into planning will only enhance outcomes further.

The contents of this article are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions.

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