Google Drive, Email Storage, and their Sustainable Management

Google no longer provides unlimited storage for educational institutions. Why? Cloud storage requires servers and electricity. And, as data traffic grows, so will the use of fossil fuels. Growing cloud resources are particularly energy intensive accounting for 4% of global electricity consumption and 1% of global greenhouse emissions. The expectation of unlimited free storage is now unrealistic as companies, like Google, seek to reduce costs and lessen environmental impacts.

All of us at Williams will need to do our part to limit growth by “decluttering our digital lives” through data/records management, stewardship, and reducing our footprint. Some of the data you are storing may be records and/or essential for your time here at Williams. Other files may be inactive, less important, and possibly just taking up digital space.

Williams needs to reduce our current storage use before January 1 2024 when Google’s new limits will apply to us.  We will attain that objective in several ways.

What are the next steps?

    • Quotas:  We implemented quotas on Faculty/Staff accounts, Student accounts and Shared Drives in order to reign in unchecked growth. However, we will provide the option to increase those quotas when appropriate.
    • Remove accounts:  Cautiously, we will be deleting old accounts which are taking up significant storage while being careful to not delete any important files or records (based on legal, fiscal, or historical requirements) those accounts may be sharing.
    • "Spring Cleaning"/ digital file management: OIT, in partnership with the records management program (Libraries) and the Records Manager & Digital Resources Archivist, works with individuals, offices, and departments to evaluate data use and set up efficient workflows to organize files that are no longer active, using our information management policy as a guide. We need *you* to self-curate by managing your data footprint, which includes deleting unwanted or obsolete files. The Records Manager is available for personal archiving consultations, records management site visits, and questions pertaining to what to dispose of and/ or keep.
    • Records of the college: In the process of organizing your digital files and email please adhere to office/ departmental records retention schedules and the College's General Records Retention Schedule. These schedules define records and non-records and how long to keep them in accordance to the Board of Trustees approved Policy Management of College Records. Records of vital historical, fiscal, or legal importance must be saved and/or transferred to the Records Manager for digital preservation.
    • Records & Data Management Trainings:  Stay tuned for upcoming digital file and email management trainings, Declutter Your Digital Life, with the Records Manager (sponsored by Libraries and OIT). For other recorded trainings and information about digital file management please review the Records Management website.
    • In the meantime, here is our Digital File Retention Cheat Sheet! Email, PDF, tweet, TiTok, photo, Mp4. It doesn't matter-- follow this!


  • First check what is in your Google Drive since that will likely be a much larger use of data storage than Gmail or Photos. 

    File is in a Shared Drive - you do not own it

    File is in your Drive, you own it, but shared with someone

    • The icon that looks like two people indicates that you have shared the file with someone. Consider whether the person you shared it with will miss it.  You could ask them to download it or make a copy which they own, then you delete it.
    • Move the files you don't want or are not required to keep in your Trash, then permanently delete them.
    • If you see personal files consider downloading them to your computer and uploading them to your personal Google account or external hard drive. Students will need to do this anyway before graduating.
    • If you end up moving files to a personal gmail account be aware of storage tiers and plans: Plans & Pricing - Google One  .  Dropbox, Box, Apple iCloud and Microsoft Live Onedrive have similar plans.
    • Within 24 hours deleted items will reflect available space in your Google Drive account.
  • Faculty and Staff will get 150gb by default. Accounts which were already over 150 have been put in quota groups with at least 15% room to grow. Limits can be adjusted as needed. Student accounts are set to 15gb by default.

  • Shared Drives created by Faculty and Staff will have a 15gb limit by default. Drives which were already over 15gb have been put in quota groups with at least 15% room to grow.

    Student accounts are not able to create Shared Drives but registered Student Organizations can use this form to request a Google Shared Drive as long as the ROS  information is current and up to date with the Office of Campus Life. Creating a Shared Drive is encouraged for student groups that want to preserve their histories. If you are part of a student group and think you may have records of historical value, the Records Manager can help you organize your digital files for long term retention and sharing.

  • When you go to Google Drive or to your quota page you will be warned regarding "low storage." Keep in mind you still likely have plenty of space to add files, as this warning kicks in a 80% capacity. With a standard 150gb limit you would still have 30gb of space remaining at the first warning. If you feel you will need more space please contact OIT at [email protected] for a consult to assess if an increase if warranted. We can also assist with offloading data (either deleting or saving). Files in Google Drive which you do not access frequently, which are inactive, and are not shared with anyone are good candidates to be saved on your desktop or external hard drive. For inactive digital files that are vital records of the college, please reach out to the Records Manager, to discuss inactive records digital preservation plans.

  • Suspended accounts will have their shared files set to read-only.  Accounts which are candidates for deletion will have "(PENDING DELETION - CONTACT OIT)" added to file names for easy identification.  If this file is a record or needed for use (either active or inactive use), we recommend you copy the file to your Drive.

    You can also look in the Shared with me section of your Drive and take note of files owned by former students/employees. On the right, sort by "opened by me" to help determine if those are files you used. Keep in mind files in Shared Drives are already ownerless. Those do not get deleted when accounts are deleted. If you come across files you need saved, see the next section for what to do.

  • You can easily see who owns files in your Google Drive and in the Shared With Me section. If you see owners who are no longer at Williams and the files are either records or actively used, then there are two options:

    1. You can "Make a Copy" of the file. You then own that copy which does not go away when the owner account is deleted.
    2. If the file or files or folder is one that is shared with several people you may not want to make a copy, as that is a new version that is not shared with anyone else. Please contact OIT at [email protected] and we can assist with transferring the ownership, or with moving those files to a Shared Drive to create the sharing setup.
    3. To see files shared to you by a former employee or student type     owner:[email protected]    into the search field in Drive.  For example

    Files in Shared Drives are already ownerless. Those do not get deleted when accounts are deleted.

We need to work together to keep our campus data below the limit by following good records/ information management and keep all of our accounts functioning fully! Unfortunately, if we hit our campus limit, the only Google App that will continue to function is Gmail.

As we thoughtfully manage our digital storage, our impact will be a positive one for both Williams and the planet.

If you have questions about managing what to keep and what to dispose of or would like to update your office or department’s records retention schedule the Records Manager is happy to meet with you!

For general data questions and queries about size limitations, please reach out to our student support desk.