A carbon footprint is, by definition, the amount of greenhouse gases produced by a particular human activity. When measuring the carbon footprint of an individual, a family, an event, an organization or even an entire nation, the focus is on the greenhouse gases that are released in the atmosphere by that particular person or situation. Transport, housing and food are the three largest contributors to our individual carbon footprint, but did you know that even something as simple as surfing the internet, or reading this very blog, is impacting your carbon footprint?
What is a digital footprint?
When most people think of the word ‘digital’ in association to their carbon footprint they probably think about psychical objects that they use to access the digital world. Things like inbuilt obsolescence in smart phones or computers, but our real biggest digital footprint is made up of things that we can’t actually see or touch, even though we use them everyday.
Our digital footprint includes all traces of our online activity. Everything from updating our Facebook timeline, to watching YouTube videos, to commenting on news articles, to online purchases, creates a digital trail. Everything we leave behind when using the internet, including our IP address, login details, and other personal information that can potentially be seen by other people, or tracked in a database, is indirectly responsible for damaging the environment.
How does our Digital Footprint impact the planet?
Each activity we perform online uses up a few grams of carbon dioxide, in the form of the energy needed to power the device we are using (phone, computer) and the internet connection we are using (wireless networks for example). A few grams of carbon dioxide each time we send an email or do an internet search may not seem a lot, but consider that the internet is used by 4.1 billion people, approximately 53.6% of the global population.
Now, to those ‘few grams’ per action per people using the internet all around the world, add the incredible amount of energy used by data centers and servers that are at the heart of it all and which store the entirety of the content available in the world. It’s estimated that digital technologies emit a total of 4% of greenhouse gas emissions, and that its energy consumption is increasing by 9% a year. 4% may still sound like a small number, but that’s similar to the amount produced by the airline industry, and unfortunately our digital carbon footprint is only predicted to double by 2025!
Ways to reduce your digital carbon footprint:
Turn off gadgets and streaming systems when not in use. This means switching off autoplay on YouTube so that videos aren’t playing to to an empty screen or to someone that is not interested. Same thing applies to Netflix and other online streaming services when not in use. It’s been reported that Netflix alone consumes 15% of the world’s internet traffic, so if you’re so obsessed with a movie or a series, consider downloading it so that your watching it over and over again won’t impact digital traffic. Same logic applies to music streaming services and your favorite songs and playlists. Also, the higher the resolution, the higher the energy usage, so if you find yourself watching a movie on a tiny screen where the viewing experience will have already been impacted by the size of the screen, how about reducing the resolution all together and consequently reducing the data used to stream it?
Install an ad-blocker. Each time you receive a pop-up or flash animation, your device is using up more electricity than normal because those ads are slowing down the loading process of the page you are looking at.
Think before you email and clean your inbox. Is the “Great! Thank You!” email you are sending really necessary? And how about all those old emails from years back that are in a folder somewhere? You may not need them any longer, you may not even remember who they were from, and you may not think much of them because they are neatly hidden away in a lost folder, but they are occupying space in some server somewhere in the world so press DELETE and clean out unnecessary mail.
Be mindful of what you upload. Consider if it’s really necessary to upload 6 variations of the same picture and if you really need to ‘Like’, ‘Share’ or ‘Comment’ every single thing you see in your feed.
Do you really need your whole life on the Cloud? Every image, video and file you save is stored in this imaginary cloud that we carry around in our pocket every single day. That data is reviewed over and over again for security reasons, consuming energy each and every time. According to a Greenpeace study, globally cloud computing consumes more electricity than all of Germany put together! Only upload the essential and keep it updated by deleting things once they are no longer needed on hand. Upload the majority of your pictures, videos and files on USB sticks or external hard drives.
Search smarter. Learn how to search more efficiently and get results quicker and with less steps. By making your search as exact as possible in fact you will avoid having to do multiple searches. If you already know the website’s name, fill in the bar directly, instead of going through a search engine and then clicking on a link from there.
Speaking of search engine, get to know yours and how sustainable it is. Google isn’t the only option, and there are actually search engines out there that plant a tree every time you use them to look up something.
Do your bit!
As we have said for many other topics on this blog: Do your bit! Deleting emails or turning off autoplay or refining your internet searches may seem like small things, but if we all did these small things it would make a HUGE difference to the planet and to us all. Spread the word at home or in the office and make people aware of what their digital footprint is and how they can reduce it by sharing these tips with them