s the world becomes ever more conscious of our impact on the environment, it is important to consider our online carbon footprint. For many, you may not have even known about your online carbon footprint nor know what it is. It can seem as though websites do not have a direct impact on climate change, however, they contribute hugely to carbon emissions. Each and every search made, website scrolled, and email opened requires fossil fuel and therefore releases carbon dioxide. Technological advancements within the 21st century are allowing us to be increasingly connected with people around the world. But at what cost?
The Climate Impact of Website Pages
It is estimated that individual internet users annually emit 400g of carbon dioxide, making the internet not as innocent as you may think1. Just one email of 1MB emits 20g of CO2. Meaning that by sending 20 emails a day is annually equivalent to driving a car travelling 1,000km. And a year of browsing the internet requires 365kWh, which is the same as driving a car for 1,400km!
It is reported that almost 5 billion people now use the internet - that's over 62% of the world's population2. With this, each second, around the world, the internet releases 20mg of CO2 into the atmosphere. These emissions are mostly created within the Western world, however, the internet is becoming readily used in the Global South with the global population increasingly gaining internet access.
With each video watched, photograph opened and message sent, data is created online. This data is stored often in the ‘Cloud’. The elusive ‘Cloud’ is actually the physical data centres and servers around the world which store and manage all online data in the form of ‘digital waste’3. It is estimated that gadgets, the internet and the various supporting systems account for almost 4% of the globe's greenhouse gas emissions. Which is shockingly equivalent to all air traffic in the world4. This is due to the vast amount of electricity required to run ‘brown energy’, which is created through the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil5.
Recently, there has been a push for data-centres to be powered using ‘green energy’ through renewable sources such as solar. Major brands such as Facebook, Apple, Salesforce, HP, Adobe and Google are committed to being 100% renewable by 2030-2050.
So what can we do about it?
So what can we do about it? Being mindful of your carbon footprint is the first step. Learning about your online habits and how to be more eco-friendly online is important to doing ‘our bit’. Whether you want to reduce your own carbon footprint, or your companies, there’s a few steps you can take, because doing our bit all adds up:
- Browse using your Phone or Tablet: Swap out your computer or laptop when aimlessly browsing or searching online as it uses less electricity.
- Switching to a Greener Search Engine: How about swapping to a more eco-friendly solution? The search engine ‘Ecosia’ consumes 13% less CO2 than Google6. The ‘tree-planting’ search engine pledges to plant a tree for every 45 searches in over 35 countries around the world. Allowing themselves to be carbon neutral through offset emissions7.
- Greener Cloud Storage Provider: Start using renewable charged ‘Cloud’ services such as Apple who are run on 100% renewables.
- Minimising Email Traffic: Hello, Spring Clean! Got an inbox of 3,406 emails waiting for you to open? Sick of receiving irrelevant newsletters and spam emails? By unsubscribing from newsletters and reporting spam, it can help to reduce your ‘Cloud’ storage. So go on, sort the bin/junk and delete those unnecessary emails once and for all. It’ll minimise your carbon footprint!
- Email Efficiently: Resist the temptation to send back and forth emails, be succinct in one longer email and ditch the ‘reply all’ and short ‘Okay/Thanks’ emails. Also try and minimise the use of photographs/attachments - hyperlinks are more eco-friendly. By sending just one less email it would save 2,825 tonnes of CO2 a year!8
- Advance Website Development: Encourage your company to improve its website efficiency. Websites that are video-rich and have outdated code require more electricity and therefore emit more carbon dioxide.
- Use your Smartphone Smartly: Use the optimisation feature on your phone to stop apps running in the background (and will help your battery life). Delete any old apps that you no longer use and download rather than stream music/podcasts.
- Stop using ‘Sleep Mode’: When you finish work for the day, rather than using sleep mode, turn off your laptop or computer. Websites and apps are running in the background and therefore continue to use a third of the CO2 needed to run normally9.
- Walk away from the screens! It’s said time and time again, but by simply getting off your computer is the best way to eliminate online carbon emissions. If you can’t go T-total after work, try next time you have a random question for Google (or…Ecosia) use your mobile phone instead. Research has found that phones use less electricity to run.
- Unplug: Stop overcharging your devices, not only does it take up the electricity bill, ruin your device battery life but it also emits carbon dioxide.