The global pandemic has reduced global CO2 emissions from transportation due to travel restrictions and the shift to remote work. However, experts are hesitant to say that these factors made a large enough difference to be beneficial to the environment, as they were quickly offset by increasing activity in the virtual sphere.
Internet use increased by 40% within the first few months of our global pandemic and has continually increased since. The stay-at-home order, which prompted businesses to switch their operations to mainly online, increased remote work by 6% and generated approximately 42.6 million megawatt-hours of additional electricity.1
We’ve also seen a spike in tech purchases such as laptops, cellphones, and tablets, as these devices were required for work purposes, seeing family members, teaching courses, etc. Manufacturing and consistent use of tech devices require immense amounts of energy generated by fossil fuels, resulting in surprisingly remarkable environmental effects.
So, how are CO2 emissions and our technology permeated lives connected?
Did you know that a single Google search can incur .2 to 7 grams of CO2 emissions, sending an email requires about 4 grams of CO2, and if you include long attachments, it can average around 50 grams of CO2? With every click, browse, shared document, air-dropped media, and message, carbon emissions add up.
What are Data Centers and how are they linked to CO2 emissions?
Our digital world is generated by data centers which are “enormous spaces housing energy-intensive servers that store massive amounts of data, also called server farms.”2 They account for 2% of global wattage according to the International Energy Agency, and by 2040, are predicted to account for 14% of global emissions. Although they allow for seamless browsing and other digital actions, they disproportionally pump out large amounts of CO2 into our airways.
Now, let’s get into how we can decrease our carbon digital footprint:
1. Stream with Intent and Caution
Fact: “60% of internet traffic comes from videos streamed on platforms like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu. According to ‘The Shift Project’- a French think tank, 300 million tons of CO2 are generated from watching videos every year, which equates to about 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions.”3
Recommendation: Streaming with intent means picking a couple shows to watch that you’ll really enjoy, rather than falling asleep to ‘The Office’ for the 400th time. It may also mean reading an old book as an alternative to TV time. Whatever this looks like for you, the bottom line is to reduce your screen time.
2. Purge your Digital Files
Fact: Did you know that hoarding 1GB of e-mail consumes 32.1 kWh per year?4
Recommendation: Do a deep clean of all your digital files and communication platforms. Unsubscribe from newsletters that you are no longer interested in, delete lingering promotional posts, unopened emails, duplicate photos, and anything else that no longer serves a purpose.
3. Pin Your Favourite Websites as a Bookmark
Fact: You are adding to CO2 emissions every time you search a site!
Recommendation: Instead of typing the web address of your favourite sites into the search bar every browsing session, try saving it to your search bar. You’ll have easy access to it and reduce your carbon footprint.
4. Turn Off Tech devices While Not in Use
Fact: "The Natural Resources Defense Council says the cost of plugged-in but not used devices is about $165 per household, or $19 billion across the U.S. That amounts to about 44 million tons of carbon dioxide, or 4.6% of the country’s total residential electricity generation."5
Recommendation: Consider shutting down your laptop completely, rather than just closing it, turning off your TV after use, and turning on the battery-saver options on your devices. They say that less screen time has its valuable benefits to our bodies and minds, so let's aid ourselves and the planet.
5. Transition to a Cloud Provider that Uses Renewable Energy
Fact: Storing your valuable files on the cloud is a great way to save energy, especially if you have a business that requires a lot of storage.
Recommendation: Choose a cloud provider like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services, who have all committed to a goal of powering their data centers with 100% renewable energy.”6
6. Unplug Device When Fully Charged
Fact: Unplugging your device while fully charged is essential to maintaining a healthy battery but also decreases your carbon footprint.
Recommendation: Overnight charging although convenient, is a bad habit that we're all guilty of. Let’s commit to charging our devices before we hit the hay and decrease CO2 emissions.
This Earth Day let's be more mindful about the reality of our virtual CO2 emissions and take these practical steps to decrease our individual carbon footprint!