Sustainable internet usage. How to lower our digital carbon footprint in 2021?
2020 has been a crazy year for many of us. A year in which a lot of people had to make big adjustments to their daily lives. Suddenly, we all became more home bound. Offices were empty, and business meetings became digital. Grandparents were learning about face time, Skype and Zoom in order to stay connected with their families. The digital and virtual world has even more boomed in 2020 than before, because of a virus that swept our streets empty.
Going into 2021 the world is still struggling to contain the virus. But, even if we do beat it, will people go back to their offices? Back to commuting, traffic jams and overfilled public transport? It looks like the digital focussed world will stay with us more then ever before.
This might look like a great step forward to reducing our carbon footprint. But,…
How sustainable is our digital world actually?
According to multiple sources our internet energy and carbon footprint are estimated to exceed those of air travel.
The internet industry consumes enormous amounts of energy. The backbone of the internet are data centres which hold millions of large servers, stacked on top of each other in racks and they are powered up and running all day every day.
Data centres worldwide pull energy from whatever power grid they rely on. 40% of this energy is used to cool the centres to prevent overheating. Most energy in our power grids are produced by carbon polluting sources.
In 2012 there were 500,000 data centres worldwide. Today there are over 8 million data centres worldwide. The Internet is the fastest growing carbon polluting industry, and it will eclipse all other industries in terms of worldwide pollution.
What can we do to make our digital life more sustainable?
- If you are a blogger or have a commercial website yourself, your livelihood might be depended on the internet. Even more so this means we have to think about sustainable internet. Choosing an eco-friendly web hosting is the best and only thing to do as a digital worker. From personal experience, I can highly recommend Greengeeks. This is the hosting company I use myself. They are reliable and have a great and quick costumer service. But best of all, they offset carbon footprint by 300% ! So, every amperage they pull from the grid, they invest 3x into renewable energy. Web hosting does not get greener than with Greengeeks. [*affiliate link, which I only recommend being a very happy costumer myself]
- Use Green cloud storage. Some cloud providers just simply put more focus towards sustainability then others. Before signing up with a cloud storage provider, check out their energy efficiency, and if they have a green business plan. I personally do not use cloud storage but have heard good and promising news from google drive cloud storage.
- Think twice before streaming for fun or just for background noise. Streaming video and audio are the biggest drivers of explosive data growth. Netflix and YouTube combined represent more then 50% of internet traffic during peak times in N-America. Make sure you use it sparsely, and not while you are ‘having a nap’ on the sofa.
- ‘Every picture melts a snowflake’. I am not sure if this is true. But it might help keeping in mind that all those pictures you take do have a large impact on your carbon footprint. Most people have their mobile pictures automatically stored in a cloud (like iCloud). And do we really need 10x a similar picture of the cat chilling on the sofa?
- Change your email habits. Do not use ‘reply to all’ if not necessary. Only subscribe to newsletters you are genuinely interested in and do read. Unsubscribe from the ones that you do not use any more (a regular newsletter clean-up)
- Try not to keep / store Emails that you will not need any more. All those ‘folders’ full of old Emails do take up space in those very high polluting servers. A regular Email clean-up would be a great practise in 2021, and beyond.
- Turn off devices when not in use. And recharge devices when necessary, but unplug if they are fully charged. Devices will still pull a small amount of electricity even when they are fully charged.
- And of course, which comes back to the general basics of consumerism, don’t update devices if not necessary. And if you do want or need the latest gadgets, try to recycle, or upcycle your old gadgets.
It is not all bad…
The internet, emails, and cloud providers have cut down on tons of paper, travel, and CO2 caused by delivery services. Reading news or books online produces less greenhouse gases than the same content on paper. But the carbon emissions produced from manufacturing, powering, and cooling does add up. Trying to use sustainable internet and keep our digital lives as green as possible should be our next priority in this digital age.
Find more easy tips to lower your personal carbon footprint;
You don’t have to be vegan to eat a ‘more’ plant based diet. Or you might want to start an eco-friendly house clearing. There are millions of ways to live a more sustainable life without enormous life style changes.