Your Digital Carbon Footprint – Is it bad for the environment? Leading to COP26 and the Climate Change Conference, Do you know your Digital emissions and effect on the environment?
Shall we all delete ourselves from the internet? Is this how we save the planet from our carbon emissions? Frankly speaking, do you know your digital carbon footprint?
By the way, it is almost impossible to 100% delete one’s data from the internet! Because our data and details are saved on multiple digital platforms, servers, and websites over 90% of which we do not even know.
Leading to COP26 and the Climate Change program of Zero Carbon by 2030, clearly, every single human must individually take responsibility, and collectively we could get to the desired end goal of a cleaner, safer planet for not just humans, but also for other flora and fauna on this planet.
These conferences or COPs started in 1995 with an aim to reduce carbon emissions and keep global temperature increases below 2, in fact, the aim is 1.5 degrees temperature increase.
The COP26 tagline is
to Keep 1.5 alive
Let’s put this into perspective; Global warming wiped out 14% of the world’s coral reefs between 2009 and 2018. A report warns that more underwater ecosystems are likely to die if oceans warm further! Rising sea levels put millions at risk as waterlogged land and high salinity in streams and soil are killing crops in Bangladesh, reports ALJazeerr.
So, clearly, as self-appointed gatekeepers of this planet, we humans need to do a better job of reducing our carbon emissions, the junk we generate that is affecting the climate and environment we live in. Our children deserve a clean world to enjoy too. #TogetherForOurPlanet
So, what has this got to do with the digital world? Isn’t the internet meant to be safe and clean for the environment?
Sadly no, 😱😱there is a lot of work to do, but first…
What is Digital Carbon Footprint?
This is the estimated amount of carbon dioxide emitted from digital sources such as the internet, the cloud, smartphones, and the production/shipping of such devices.
The thing is, we use these things for over 80% of our work as a digital inclusion organisation.
Our content is saved on the cloud, we have websites and multiple email addresses. We use multiple digital gadgets, including household devices, thus contributing to the 2% digital co2 footprint, which is thought to be equal to or even MORE than that of the aviation industry which is thought to be around 3% of global emissions!
And as a digital geek, for years, I have been looking for and trying out various ways to reduce my carbon footprint. So I went on a search on how our online work, affects the climate of the world we live in.
How we Contribute to the Digital Carbon Footprint
According to some expert estimates, over 5 billion people have access to the internet worldwide. And Facebook claims to have over 2 billion users per month, Instagram is following suit, Pinterest claims over 500 million monthly users, LinkedIn says the same, and these are 2020 numbers. Such figures are mind-boggling, and there’s more.
I learned that the internet relies heavily on data centers and network communication. These data centers are gigantic operations, run by mega computers around the world. Imagine, they are powered 24/7, meaning they demand a huge amoung of energy to power and cool them down. Huge emissions. And all they do is just wait to send information — text articles, social media content, audios, news, gifs, videos, podcasts, music, everything we access on the www via our digital devices. All that data you’ve become used to accessing at your fingertips super fast, 24/7 ends up contributing to your digital carbon footprint.
Do you know that Facebook built a new data center close to the Arctic circle, just to reduce on their cooling costs? For search engine companies like Google, the amount of information their data centers manage is unimaginable. To function efficiently, these centers need a huge amount of electricity. They also generate a ton of heat, which is contributing to global warming, thus the need for cooling!
One of the reasons most people don’t think as critically about the internet and its impact on the environment is probably because they perceive it to be invisible. It is thus harder to see its impact when its inner workings don’t seem to exhibit external impact.
In my case, this information, made me stop and wonder about the fact that I spend inordinate large chunks of my time scrolling through social media newsfeeds, random Pinterest boards, creating content, and consuming it. Over the last 3 years, my work relies on video live streaming.
Did you know that currently, the largest global digital footprint is caused by video streaming? Video files are HUGE and live streaming takes it to a whole new level. Its believed to be at 80% of internet usage today. (info from Carbon Brief)
This is one of the reasons I reduced our live streaming from 3 times a week to just once a week.
Since the pandemic hit though, my decision was hugely impacted. Over the last year or so I spend large chunks of my days on Zoom or Google Meetings…While feeling all good that as a family, we try to reduce our environmental impact!
But for all the effort I put into creating environmentally ethical daily habits, my internet usage is truly way out there.
Why, simple — Data and Communication.
Do you know about Data Centers & Communication Networks?
Data centers – are digital data factories with thousands of stacks of computers storing and transmitting information on the interwebs — every website, search, uploaded audio or video, that information gets drawn upon and stored via a data server linked to a data center.
I learned that Google currently runs 16 data centers that are interconnected and handle over 40,000 search queries every second. Their data centers — large computers stacked together, do generate a lot of heat, and they also use large air conditioning resources to cool them down.
And when I Julie Syl do a live stream session, I am contributing to the energy use and heat emissions. Remember that most of these centers use electricity. And most of the world’s electricity relies heavily on fossil fuels, this could mean a huge increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
Communication networks – A complicated system of digital roads and gateways that allow us to navigate the internet on our gadgets. Most of us access the internet via wired access even though we consider it wireless. You see, in order to push whatever data you require from servers to your device, physical wiring is necessary and the transmission demands energy.
Behind all that WiFi – wireless technologies are routers and receivers to your internet provider which receives electrical signals from data centers to your PC, tablet, laptop, or another electrical device. The whole internet infrastructure requires energy, which has an emissions footprint.
Now, imagine that streaming is trending today, almost every Julie and their mama does a quick live video to share their joys and not-so-fun moments!
The giants in this space are Facebook, YouTube, and Netflix… Yup so every time you binge-watch a series, think of your digital carbon emissions.
Greenpeace rated Netflix and YouTube on energy makeup, transparency, and efficiency.
YouTube received an “A” 👏 I believe this is down to the fact that it is owned and operated by Google. Google data servers, we are informed run on renewable energy. It also has implemented tools like machine-learning in their centers for more efficient streamlined storage. They are also committed to being transparent about their goals for 100% renewable energy.
Netflix on the other hand received a “D” 😳 mostly because it rarely makes public its energy usage data. Their excuse is they rely on Amazon servers. These servers though run on non-renewable energy sources!
Digital Carbon Emissions – 2050
It’s been trending CO2 Net Zero 2050…Well, with the 2 years, we’ve had where the world literally went digital for communication during lockdowns, the internet’s energy requirements are only getting thirstier. Potentially, this means higher energy demands higher consumption of fossil fuels, and higher emissions.
That said, the internet could potentially also start the planet clean up, to be greener. I mean when did you last buy a DVD or CD? Yep…less plastic waste, less e-waste, a cleaner environment we hope.
The digital space is definitely complicated. I don’t even pretend to know it all, I am always eager to learn better ways to keep our digital and general co2 footprint down, for the next generation.
So, here are some tips I have learned and implemented. You too can try to reduce your digital carbon footprint at home and work:
7 ways to Reduce Your Digital Carbon Footprint
#1. Reduce your monitor brightness – If you work on a PC/Tablet or even a mobile device, over the years, I have noticed that dimming our monitors even by 30% saves us up to 20% of the energy the monitor uses. And it’s great for the eyes. win-win, right?
#2. Adjust PC power settings – every time you step away from your PC. This can be done once, via settings. You can set your computer to go into sleep or hibernate energy conservation mode when you go to the loo, or take a comfort break.
Also, a lot of people leave their PCs on sleep mode overnight. Don’t do that, shutting it down completely when not in use will save some energy.
#3. Block videos autoplay – This is so common on YouTube. Most people have it on default, that videos autoplay one after another. Playing videos uses a ton of energy, so, stop videos you don’t want to watch from playing via your settings as well. Browsers like Chrome do have this functionality under settings.
#4. Delete your Data– delete old accounts, old Social media content like images, tweets, don’t just archive it.
Clear your cache daily and turn on tracking protection – Data tracking services have gone way up, every website you visit leaves cookies (Not the sweet nibbles kind) on your gadget. These cookies gather data about you, what you are searching for, your location, and whatever they can scrap off your PC. Use a VPN service on your gadgets as normal to cloak your IPS address.
That data cookies grab from you is transmitted to hundreds of companies online who know what to do with that data. (See why you cannot 100% delete yourself from the internet?) This guzzles a ton of energy. Clearing your cache via browsers and tools like C-Cleaner can help protect your data from pervasive tracking and collection by ad networks and third-party trackers, and the environment too. #Cherry🍒
#5. Fewer Emails More Communication – while we’re witnessing the Digital Revolution, it doesn’t mean we embrace everything about it wholesale. Communication is always better when people talk, don’t you think?
So make that phone call instead of sending a ton of emails, and Clear your mailbox regularly. Make it a monthly Mission to get to Zero Inbox messages, thus reducing data storage and the heat on those data centers we talked about before.
The same goes for Unsubscribing from mailing lists you no longer engage with or ever wanted. Why receive emails you don’t open? Release/Unsubscribe from them and help the planet.
Instead of opening multiple websites for generic info, Why don’t you ask Siri on your Apple products, maybe you have Alexa to ask? Well simple, because it demands more energy, in addition to the cost of these gadgets. Talking of which, why not keep yours for longer instead of upgrading every 2 years? My last phone served me well for 6 yrs
#6. Play music as audio files– instead of streaming them from YouTube. You could also watch the video at a lower resolution.
Note: When it comes to Live streams – Online Meetings like Zoom or MS Meetings, so many people demand that others turn on their webcams. This act alone demands so much energy and releases a ton of emissions. It means every single one on that call/meeting is holding a mini Livestream. Unless there is a live demo or it’s for monitoring purposes, there is no need to have your webcam/video on during say a zoom session. Unless you are the presenter or actively speaking. Save some energy, reduce your digital footprint.
#7. Educate yourself on Climate Change– esp. at home and in your line of work. There is a ton of information on the internet.
Feel free to check out the SAWN Sisters Climate Change Projects that you too could do at home or support. You can visit the Women’s Environmental Network regarding the New Feminist Deal and My Climate on the effects of climate change on the planet.
If you wish to start learning about social media and digital selling, algorithms, and the essentials of being digital savvy for you or your voluntary organization or social enterprise, go to our services page
Thanks so much for visiting and tuning in to this episode. This article was made possible by support from Support and Action Women’s Network – SAWN, Women’s Environmental Network – WEN, and people like you supporting us right here. They have helped make WODIN a reality.
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