Seeding Change: Pangea on reducing our digital footprint

How are APC members improving their communities’ lives? In this column we’re highlighting stories of impact and change by our members, supported by APC subgranting. In Catalonia, Pangea embarked on a research project that resulted in a guide to more environmentally sustainable use of the internet, focused on Spain and Latin America.

An independent non-profit organisation founded in 1993, Pangea is one of APC’s oldest members, with nearly three decades of work promoting the strategic use of communication networks and information and communications technologies (ICTs) for development and social justice. Their main activities revolve around internet services and service development, support and technical advice, awareness raising on the relationship between society and technology, and capacity building. 

“There is a need to increase awareness around the use of ethical technologies”

In the current global context of a health emergency, where the use of communication and remote work software as well as the volume of data traffic on the internet have increased significantly, Pangea identified a need to increase awareness around the use of ethical technologies and promoting socially and environmentally responsible use of digital technologies.

“A recent Catalan Social Market analysis revealed that responsible usage of ICTs is one of the lowest scored criteria among social organisations,” Mercè M. Tarrés, a member of the organisation, highlighted. “In the pandemic and post-pandemic context, the urgency of promoting a critical and responsible approach to ICTs is even greater.” 

This motivated Pangea to research the environmental impact of the internet, specifically website development and measurement tools, from a critical perspective, which they did through the “How do you TECH at your organisation?” project, which received an APC grant for research and campaign support in 2020. 

Through this project, they launched a wide-reaching communication campaign through social media, blog posts, press contributions and graphic educational material, including memes. They translated a user guide for Mailman open-source software into Spanish and Catalan. They also embarked on intensive research into an “eco-respectful” internet. This included gathering and updating tips from materials like the EDRi guide to ethical website development and maintenance and from Low-tech Magazine, which can be accessed through a solar-powered website, among others.

To make sure their work incorporated a diversity of voices and experiences, Pangea collaborated with La Concèntrica, a feminist communications agency from Catalonia, who helped them design and reinforce their outreach strategy. They also managed to gather a group of organisations from Catalonia, Spain and Latin America, some of them members of the APC network, as content advisors to help them spread the word.

Their work also led to the creation of the Guía de internet eco-amigable (“Guidelines for an eco-friendly internet”, available only in Spanish for now), which offers tips on good habits around the use of ICTs, both from a basic user perspective and from the perspective of web product design and service. 

Promoting the return of static websites

During the creation of the guide, Pangea made sure to “practice what they preach.” 

“They say you can’t go around the world preaching without setting an example. We couldn’t gather knowledge and write a guide of tips on greener internet use without making greener use of the internet,” members of the project team explained, referring to the technology choices that the organisation makes in its own work. 

Pangea put its message into practice with the content of its new guide by formatting it as a static website, which helps to reduce traffic, avoid extra energy waste and reduce technological hyper-consumerism.

“As an example,” they explained, “it is useful for us to measure the estimated reduction of emissions, calculated with the Carbonalyser browser extension, comparing the estimated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the guide’s static website with Pangea’s own dynamic website.”

“Creative Commons weeds”

When asked about how this work can evolve, Mercè used a metaphor from nature. “We planted a seed. Pollination could only happen if we planted a seed, it was impossible if we just sold seeds,” she said.

“Now it is time to water, fertilise and take care of it," she continued. "In Euskal Herria, Madrid and some corners of Catalonia, organisations are already studying our guide and the possibilities it offers to them, but this does not end here. We would like to be weeds, Creative Commons weeds, the kind that reproduce even in concrete.”

 

This piece is a version of the information provided by Pangea as part of the project “How do you TECH at your organisation?”, adapted for the Seeding Change column, which presents the experiences of APC members and partners who were recipients of funding through its core subgranting programme, supported by Sida, and of subgrants offered through other APC projects. Members of Pangea involved in the project are (in alphabetical order) Daniel Armengod, Leandro Navarro, Lorena Merino, Mercè M. Tarrés, Mirto and Paco Cascón.

Want to know more about the environmental impact of ICTs? Pangea is part of a working group of APC members, partners and staff from all over the world who are exploring the intersections of technology, environmental justice and sustainability. The working group recently launched a new guide to the circular economy of digital devices, available in English, French and Spanish. Pangea also contributed to the latest edition of Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch), which tackled the theme of technology, the environment and a sustainable future. Read the report they co-authored here

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