Contributed by Janice Chen
Much has been written about the escalating carbon footprint arising from digital consumption and its resulting environmental impact. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that the world needs sweeping changes to energy, transportation and other systems to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.[i] The bleak future facing our world and the devastating natural disasters in 2018 that have hit Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, and other parts of the world, inspired the thoughts of this piece.
As an institution working to preserve Asian cinematic heritage both in analogue and digital formats, the Asian Film Archive (AFA) is also concerned about the environmental impact while going about its job. At the AFA, we have taken some steps (no matter how tiny it seems) to save our environment in this digital age.
At AFA, we conscientiously follow the principle of recycling by reusing. We currently have hundreds of hard disc drives (HDD) that stockpiled over time from purchases, deposits, and various acquisitions. Instead of keeping the digital files on the HDD (we know we shouldn’t any way!), we process the files as soon as we receive them. Once the media is successfully ingested into our content management system—transferred onto our servers and onto LTO tapes for long term preservation—we remove the files on the HDD and reuse it for other purposes. We organise an inventory list to recycle the HDDs and avoid unnecessary purchasing.
With the urgent need to digitise increasingly obsolete audiovisual magnetic media within the next couple of years, this means that hundreds and thousands of magnetic media become “media carcasses” and will eventually need to be destroyed. The AFA is continuing to preserve as many of these tapes if they are the sole surviving copies of the films, with no other elements available. Should anything happen to the digitised files, the tapes act as a backup copy until they are rendered totally unplayable. While this merely staves off e-waste generated from mass digitisation exercises for a few years, we hope anxiously for technological leaps in the recycling of magnetic media.
As a small archive, being flexible and practical has enabled us to re-evaluate and think of work arounds or other alternatives quickly to reduce inefficiencies. In so doing, we have managed to lessen wastage in various areas–paper usage, electricity, printing and courier utilisation. A good example is, in working with public agencies, we have eliminated DVDs as a physical access copy, requesting filmmakers to provide all their materials digitally directly to the Archive instead of going through multiple agencies.
To further reduce our carbon footprint, we implement a selection policy for the acquisition of digital collections. With digital production workflows, the sheer volume of content generated for a single film such as different cuts and versions, various trailers, teasers, and behind-the-scene clips, can be astronomical. By adhering to a sensible selection guideline, we take in only essential files and items needed for long-term digital preservation. This keeps the size of our digital collection sustainable, translating into savings in the long run, both in terms of electricity consumption and manhours.
There are many more ways in which environment conservation can be done, including efficient energy consumption of disk servers through better file management, reducing the amount of e-waste generated, ensuring that the e-waste is properly disposed of by engaging licensed vendors, and reusing more than disposing. Reducing our carbon footprint consciously while doing digital preservation may be inconvenient and tedious, but if we can do these “little” things well, a little can go a long way in making a greener world for the future.
[i] “The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, UN scientists say,” The Washington Post, by Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis, 7 October 2018. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/energy-environment/2018/10/08/world-has-only-years-get-climate-change-under-control-un-scientists-say/>
Janice Chen is Archive Officer at the Asian Film Archive.