After being overwhelmed by the IPCC Report on climate change, Alison and I wanted to spend some time focusing on personal actions that could help the planet.
We’ve looked at a few areas of our lives so far, such as gardening, our food choices, our energy choices and how we can use our time to help the planet. This week I’m looking at how our internet use choices help the planet.
How Data Gets Around the World
Internet use choices such as streaming, searching, emailing – they all seem like they shouldn’t have much of an impact beyond maybe the electricity to run our computer. Somehow I thought that the data I download, upload, and send around the planet kind of floated magically through the air, maybe? I really hadn’t given the mechanics of it a lot of thought.
It wasn’t until (ironically, streaming) Netflix’s Connected “Clouds” episode that I began to understand how our data actually moves — in our physical world, it takes physical resources to move these bits and bytes around the planet.
And though each search or email may not take a lot of energy in and of itself, the volume that occurs is what results in the significant impact on the planet.
Although the energy needed for a single internet search or email is small, approximately 4.1 billion people, or 53.6% of the global population, now use the internet.BBC Future
Resources and energy are required to manufacture, distribute, and maintain the cables that carry the signals, while energy is required to power our devices and move the impulses along vast networks of fibre-optic cables.
It is likely many of us don’t understand the magnitude of energy consumption of the internet, and the combined impact that many individual users completing many small actions has on that underlying, often unseen energy usage. I certainly didn’t!
How Internet Use Choices Impact Our Carbon Footprint
Two weeks ago we looked at how our energy use impacts our carbon footprint, and this is directly linked to how our internet use impacts our carbon footprint. Various countries around the world rely more or less on fossil fuels to generate electricity. Thus the carbon footprint of the energy used to power the internet is dependent on the underlying method of generation of electricity in a region. If a country relies heavily on fossil fuel power plants then the internet usage there will result in more greenhouse gas generation for the same activities that may generate less emissions in a country with cleaner energy sources.
To store and transmit all of the data powering the internet, data centers consume enough electricity to account for 1 percent of global energy demand — which is more than the total consumption for many countries.MIT Energy Initiative
Though we can work toward cleaner power generation collectively, there are some very simple and inexpensive changes that can be made to reduce our personal internet use impact!
Five Simple But Impactful Personal Internet Use Choices
1) Turn off your video in meetings, where possible
Just what we all need – an excuse not to do your make-up, leave on the sweats, and keep the camera off for your next videoconference!
One hour of streaming or videoconferencing can emit between 150 and 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide, depending on the service. By comparison, a car produces about 8,887 grams from burning one gallon of gasoline. That hour also requires 2-12 liters of water and a land area about the size of an iPad Mini. Those hours add up in our daily lives with all the time we’re spending on video — and so does the associated environmental footprint.MIT Energy Initiative
2) Consider carbon offsets
According to Carbon Offset Guide “A carbon offset broadly refers to a reduction in GHG emissions – or an increase in carbon storage (e.g., through land restoration or the planting of trees) – that is used to compensate for emissions that occur elsewhere.”
A Sustainably Simple Life made the switch to GreenGeeks partially because they use various offsets to cover off the energy use of their operations. Want to try it out for yourself? Click on our affiiliate link below!
If you’ve considered working towards netting out some of your greenhouse gas emissions, check out Get Offset, a fantastic company that can facilitate this! They have plans for planting trees and offsetting emissions. Click on the image below!
3) Stream in lower quality
I had no idea that changing the video quality of streaming could result in approximately 25 times less emissions! This is a simple switch that I’ll be implementing at home.
A streaming service’s video quality is one of the largest determinants of its environmental footprint. Currently, the default for many services is high-definition, putting the onus on the user to reduce the quality of their video in order to improve their footprint. Not many people will be interested in reducing their video quality, especially if the benefits of this action are not well known.MIT Energy Initiative
4) Send less email and unsubscribe from junk email and mailing lists
There are several simple actions we can take to reduce the impact of our communications, such as:
- Unsubscribing from mailing lists we no longer read
- Choosing to send links to documents instead of attachments in emails
- Not sending emails to multiple recipients, where possible
By simply stopping unnecessary niceties such as “thank you” emails we could collectively save a lot of carbon emissions. If every adult in the UK sent one less “thank you” email, it could save 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year – the equivalent to taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road.BBC Future
5) Use your devices for longer
Though it’s tempting to get the latest and greatest technology, this can actually impact your overall carbon footprint in a measurable way! According to BBC Future, “As an individual, simply upgrading our equipment less often is one way of cutting the carbon footprint of our digital technology. The greenhouse gases emitted while manufacturing and transporting these devices can make up a considerable portion of the lifetime emissions from a piece of electronics.”