Digital preservation relies on technological infrastructure (information and communication technology, ICT) that has considerable negative environmental impacts, which in turn threaten the very organizations tasked with preserving digital content. While altering technology use can reduce the impact of digital preservation practices, this alone is not a strategy for sustainable practice. Moving toward environmentally sustainable digital preservation requires critically examining the motivations and assumptions that shape current practice. Building on Goldman's challenge to current practices for digital authenticity and using Ehrenfeld's sustainability framework, we propose explicitly integrating environmental sustainability into digital preservation practice by shifting cultural heritage professionals' paradigm of appraisal, permanence, and availability of digital content.
The article is organized in four parts. First, we review the literature for differing uses of the term “sustainability” in the cultural heritage field: financial, staffing, and environmental. Second, we examine the negative environmental effects of ICT throughout the full life cycle of its components to fill a gap in the cultural heritage literature, which primarily focuses on the electricity use of ICT. Next, we offer suggestions for reducing digital preservation's negative environmental impacts through altered technology use as a stopgap measure. Finally, we call for a paradigm shift in digital preservation practice in the areas of appraisal, permanence, and availability. For each area, we propose a model for sustainable practice, providing a framework for sustainable choices moving forward.