There are a lot of creative ways to recycle and reuse energy, and this is (sort of) one of them. A program called "We Warm Each Other" measures your digital trash- files you move into your computer's trash bin- and "converts" it into heating for homeless shelters in Sweden. It's an interesting idea and a nice initiative, but it raises a few questions.
Created by advertising agency TBWA for the Swedish District Heating Association, the program lets uses sign up for a service that calculates how many megabytes of data they "throw away." Then, according to the video below:
The program then recalculates the megabytes from your digital trash can into kilowatt hours of heat. We then give these kilowatt hours that you and other like-minded individuals have generated to Swedish City Missions, which in turn frees up money for them to spend on other pressing needs.
The meaning of the verb "recalculates" here is hard to pin down; perhaps it's lost in translation. But my understanding is that there's no actual link between the Word document I trash and the heat that warms a shelter in Stockholm.
It's an advertising campaign, but I don't think it's greenwashing. It looks like the Swedish District Heating Association is dedicated to reducing carbon emissions; it operates combined heat and power (CHP) plants that capture and use the heat that is a by-product of electricity generation.
Besides, it aims to expand how people think about recycling, and should get them interested in how we can use advancing technology to reduce our impact on the planet, and keep warm on winter nights.
Updated: In an e-mail, Tobias Bergenwall of TBWA wrote:
All the items you discard from your computer counts as megabytes. For every Mb district heating of Sweden will donate approximately 0,001 kilowatt-hours to National Association Sweden city missions. Which practically means that they donate "money" to heat their locations.