In this article, I am following the line from my past article 20 Sustainable Apps and Tools to Greener your Internet Usage, and I will continue exploring and explaining some topics about the Internet and Digitalization, like the hidden effects they have on our carbon footprint.
We are in the digital era. Studies say that 2.5 billion people are connected to the Internet worldwide and that the Internet’s energy and carbon footprint are estimated to exceed air travel. From manufacturing and shipping of computers to data use and storage, the digitalization and Internet are less sustainable than we might think.
Our unconscious handling of smart devices has to stop. We shouldn’t be using those devices without realizing the bigger effects that they can have on the environment.
Let’s start by defining some important and basic concepts before the taking action list:
|Digitalization: turning interactions, communications, business functions, and business models into (more) digital ones which often boils down to a mix of digital and physical as in omnichannel customer service, integrated marketing, or smart manufacturing with a mix of autonomous, semi-autonomous, and manual operations.|
|The Internet: is the wider network that allows computer networks around the world run by companies, governments, universities, and other organizations to talk to one another. The result is a mass of cables, computers, data centers, routers, servers, repeaters, satellites, and WiFi towers that allows digital information to travel around the world.|
|Carbon Footprint: is the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced to, directly and indirectly, support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).|
Important: Greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation and keep our planet warm. They are one of the causes of global warming.
I am going to concentrate my article on the part of Digitalization related to the Internet, but not only. The Internet is one of the discoveries of the digitalization era that really interconnected a big part of the world during the last decades. During the last year 2020 (specifically for the countries in the Global North) the Internet became almost a necessity, or A necessity. People have been confronted with a new way of working and creating relationships, they have adapted almost every life activity to an Internet-based one. But… this doesn’t happen without a negative impact.
The Internet consumes a huge amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting energy. Basically, we can divide the emissions into two categories:
- Manufacturing and Shipping: Technology companies must manufacture and ship the Internet’s hardware including servers, computers, and Smartphones, among others.
- Powering and cooling: computers and smartphones must be powered and cooled, drawing electricity from local grids. This power is generated in different ways with varying emissions: coal, natural gas, and petroleum.
The production of servers requires more GHG-producing energy, and every time we use a search engine, there’s an output of greenhouse gases because every unique search requires multiple servers. And let’s remember that from the production of our TV screen until we press play and watch our favorite TV series, we are emitting GHG-gases, not personally, but we could add this process definitely to our personal Carbon Footprint calculator.
I have collected some examples in numbers for a better understanding:
- One online search with a search engine accounts for an estimated 0.2 to 7 grams of carbon dioxide emissions (7 grams are equivalent to boiling a pot of tea or driving a car for a bit less than 16 meters).
- Looking at a website with pictures or video emits an estimated 0.2 grams of CO2 per second.
- An email has an estimated carbon footprint of 4 grams of CO2, and a large attachment could have a footprint of 50grams.
According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, the internet is responsible for roughly one billion tonnes of greenhouse gases a year; around two percent of world emissions.
As we all know, it is almost impossible to change how the world and society work. Digitalization will be there and the Internet will be, as well. It has great benefits for our society and it was a big jump into a new era. But… I strongly believe that our actions, even if they are super small ones, multiplied by millions can make a change in the amount of carbon dioxide that we emit to the atmosphere.
13 ways to reduce your online Carbon Footprint:
- Use your digital devices for as long as possible before changing them. (Buying one new phone takes as much energy as recharging and operating a smartphone for an entire decade).
- Repair your devices: sometimes repairing will cost more money than buying a new device, but we should try to not support this style. The “Right to Repair” movement is fighting to make the repair of smartphones, tablets, and laptops accessible, affordable and mainstream. (Sign here)
- On your E-mail: limit the “reply all” emails, limit or eliminate confirmation e-mails like: “Got it”, “ok”, “Thank you”, among other short messages like those, and most important: unsubscribe from unnecessary and irrelevant Newsletters (an e-mail has a lower carbon footprint than a paper mail, but through the rebound effect we end up using more carbon instead of less. Every newsletter emits on average 10 grams of CO2 and 200 million emails are sent every minute, which means around 2,000 tons of CO2 are emitted every minute from emails!
- Storage: choose a conscious and green cloud provider, which is run completely on renewable energy sources.
- Shut Down your computer if you will be away from it for more than 2 hours. For shorter periods of time, set it into sleep mode (the watts of energy used will decrease from 15-60 to 2-5).
- Unplug chargers and/or devices that aren’t in use or use an energy-efficient power strip. (when plugged and powered down, devices still draw energy, known as standby power or vampire power.)
- For quick searches and non-work-related tasks, use a tablet or smartphone instead of a laptop; they use far less energy than larger devices.
- Social media, music, email, streaming video, and commerce are increasingly moving online, which means a lot of new data has to be stored. Depending on the company, the energy created to store that data isn’t very green. Some have taken already big steps to green their cloud by committing to a goal of powering data centers with 100% renewable energy. Ask major Internet and online companies to go green with this Greenpeace petition (sign here).
- When using your smartphone: a few times a day, close the Apps that run in the back, and while instant messaging, be aware to concentrate on all you want to say in one message instead of sending 4 or 5 short ones. You can also try to avoid sending irrelevant videos, audios, emojis, and GIFs (I know it can be hard, as it is sometimes so funny and tempting).
- When listening to music, avoid video platforms (like Youtube) if you are not watching the music video and use specific music platforms that don’t stream the music video, or go back to using the radio and discover some new songs!
- When streaming movies, tv-shows or any other kind of video material from the Internet, lower the quality of streaming. This will also lower your Carbon Footprint and it is unnecessary to watch a 4K video on a device where you can’t properly enjoy it.
- When joining online meetings and conversations, if it’s not required, leave your camera off, this will reduce the amount of sent data.
- Use Ecosia search engine (every 45th search a tree is being planted) and all the other sustainable and conscious apps available in the market. Go check my Article 20 Sustainable Apps and Tools to Greener your Internet Usage for more great Sustainable Apps.
The Internet, email, and cloud-based services have cut down on tons of physical resources (like paper, for example), but the carbon emissions produced from manufacturing, powering, and cooling computers, smartphones, and data centers can add up. The greening of the Internet and digitalization is the next endeavor in our hyper-connected and digitalized times.