Reducing yours, and our digital carbon footprint is a greater problem in society than we might generally think. Approximately 4.1 billion people, or 53.6% of the global population now use the internet (Source: BBC), and those perceived mere scraps of small energy to use the internet really do build up. The associated greenhouse gases that the internet emits with each online activity is vast, and substantial - to the point where in reality digital emissions are a bigger emitter of C02 than the aviation industry.
“The cumulative emissions from internet usage amount to around 1.7 billion tonnes a year - 45% greater than the aviation industry.”Source: BBC
Even basic calculations demonstrate the issue that we face in reducing digital carbon emissions. For instance the average U.S. mobile phone user spends 2.3 hours a day on their phone, at the average rate of 1.7gb in data used each month. That's 45.6kg of carbon emissions per user, per year (using the Green Clicks digital carbon calculation methodology). Now, this may seem tiny - but when you multiply this by the 294 million U.S. mobile phone users, and consider that a mature oak tree only captures and sequests 29kg of carbon a year (source: Natural England). Then you are talking about protecting or finding the equivalent of 13.4 million tonnes of CO2, or 462 million oak trees.
So to help raise awareness about what we can collectively do, here are some important steps to help reduce your digital carbon emissions:
1. Reduce Load Qualities
“The emissions generated by watching 30 minutes of Netflix [1.6 kg of CO2] is the same as driving almost 4 miles" (source: IEA). So by reducing the intensity of your downloads and streams - you are effectively making a reduction in overall power usage and therefore a drop in emissions (right across scope 1-3 emissions).
In the real world, this tends to mean selecting things like data saver modes in settings for YouTube (or selecting the 720p quality option in YouTube). This is replicated in services such as Netflix or Spotify too - whereby you can opt to 'save data' in the Mobile Data Usage setting. By doing so you can also make sure your website or work intranet assets (e.t.c.) are less resource heavy - so smaller file sizes for images to load by customers/colleagues, and less wasted loading of excessive code and so forth.
2. Reduce Social Feed Views
In an ideal world it is worth reducing the data that you are consuming as much as possible, because the more data that you use - the more emissions that you emit. For instance, Facebook estimate that each 2.7 billion user emits 300g of CO2 per year (Source: Cnet). Think more closely about your data usage on things like Instagram, are you looking at your social feed a lot in the day? Try to reduce the use in parts of the day that you really don't need to be on Social Media e.g. read a book on the commute instead, and enjoy your social feed in the evening.
3. Choose Renewable Energy
When you select your power supplier, you should commit where you can to renewable providers like Bulb. Wind and Solar energy are far greater at providing the reassurance that unknown emissions aren't being created e.g. from the burning of coal for your power supplies.
4. Download Reusable Files
Downloading a file, be it a film or song playlist, is resource heavy. However when you're downloading something that you watch or listen to a lot - you are making sure that any future uses of that file are done so via the device, without the need for streaming any further data.
5. Corporate Pressure
Where you can it is important to help to put the pressure on corporations and philanthropics to do more, to adopt better practices and invest in low carbon digital technologies - alongside protecting what little natural CO2 sequestration resources that we have left. Without this, corporations can't see their customer interests as being environmentally driven. Nore can they turn a blind eye. We all need to do our bit, and sometimes that means doing more to pursuade others.
6. Turn-Off Power
Thinking smartly about the power and energy use of machines can save you up to £86 a year in electricity charges (source: Energy Saving Trust)! It's a relatively straight forward step: does your laptop always need to be on charge? Does your phone screen time-out after 5 seconds? Do you have bluetooth on all the time? These changes to the way you work with technology can save you money as well as the environmental benefits associated in reducing power usage.
7. Use Dark Modes
Screens are a sizeable part of the energy used through technology, so dimming OLED and Amoled screens and reducing the screen brightness is important to reduce energy and therefore emissions. It can reduce power usage by up to 23.5% (source: Mobile Enerlytics).
8. Offset Your Online Activities
If you are not capable of making quick, dramatic changes to the way you consume digital, then offsetting your digital emisisons helps to bridge the emissions that you are creating. As the conservation scientist, Professor Julia Jones of Bangor University puts it: "Carbon offsets are essential. I find it hard to envisage a future where rainforests (like in Madagascar) continue to exist and provide a habitat for species that so many of us care about without some kind of carbon finance in the long term."
9. Go For Eco-Tech
Thinking more wisely about the investments you make in tech is an extreme step, but worth considering. Think Fairphone, the company that builds phones in order to be dismantled far more easily for recycling, thus reducing the burden of technology hardware and the resources needed to create these. Why buy new too? If you're a small operation then you might want to recycle by buying secondhand laptops.
10. Change Server Cooling
We don't all run servers. But server cooling can be an enormous consumer of energy, so improving the methods of cooling servers is a practical way of seriously reducing your digital carbon footprint e.g. by using evaporative cooling systems such as that from Eco Cooling.
Emails create a lot of emissions. "An average person in the developed world adds 136kg of CO2 to their carbon footprint from the emails they send and receive. This is equivalent to an extra 320km" (Source: Science Focus). So unsubcribe as much as possible.
12. Eco Search
It is estimated by Carbon Footprint that every Google search creates between 1g and 10g of CO2 per search (Source: The Times). So if you're a keen search engine user then why not use Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees for every search.
13. Choose An Eco Host
Doing your utmost to select a host that has eco-credentials is an impressive additional step to making sure you are looking at emissions indirectly (e.g. scope 2-3 emissions) created from your activities. Try Kualo.
14. Measure More
There are plenty of companies and applications out there to help and support you in measuring the emissions of your devices and workflows e.g. Google Android Data Usage Stats. It is important to take certain steps like this to understand and audit where you are emitting the most in order to approach these with new ideas and fresh plans to reduce emissions from digital activities. A good example of this is measuring what your online video conference emissions are.
You can't easily interpret how much damage we all collectively do when we overly ignore (through poor awareness or otherwise) what appears small, but is collectively enormous digital emissions. We are all creating digital carbon footprints that together amount to huge C02 emissions. But no one company, or person can resolve this on their own. So with greater awareness of the small steps made by all - everyone can help to reduce the impact that digital is having, starting with the below essentials that we are working with governments, partners and big-tech to resolve:
- ⦿ Eco-Settings: Make sure big tech releases eco-settings, able to turn on in a flash e.g. dark modes, and lower quality video or media streams
- ⦿ Build Pressure: Join and contribute to the pressure being put on corporations, govenments and philanthropics to act faster
- ⦿ Renewables: Pushing big-tech to adopt renewables more aggressively
- ⦿ Encourage Downloads: Encourage major platforms to promote the downloading of repeatedly viewed programmes or media files
- ⦿ Reduce Spam: Get email platforms to make unsubscribing way more easier to reduce unnecessary emails
- ⦿ Measure: Develop more ways within IOS systems for users to more easily monitor emissions e.g. via Android and iPhone