5 Quick Tips to Decrease Online Carbon Footprint

By Clare McKenzie
June 22, 2021

All data provided by the internet, and the energy used to transmit it, is often not considered in businesses’ total carbon footprint calculations.  Environmental effects of online activity can be calculated by carbon emissions from electricity usage related to internet access.  These invisible emissions have a tremendous impact.  Most harmful are data centers across the world which house servers that are powered on 24/7, ready to send and receive information at any moment. These buildings alone account for over 2%of the world’s total energy consumption. Additionally, personal internet users must connect to a router and power their devices, both of which contribute significantly to total household electricity usage.  Further, the impact of electronic waste from electronics with short lifespans adds up globally to result in toxic waste and overflowing landfills.

Fortunately, there are several simple solutions to reducing digital emissions.  The average internet user can salvage their carbon footprint with more conscious browsing. However, if employed across an entire business, these actions can quickly aggregate into large-scale energy use reduction.


1. Consider the Device Itself

One of the most effective methods of reducing digital footprint can begin before users access the internet at all. Devices that put users online consume a significant amount of energy that can be minimized and offset in a variety of ways.  Simply dimming monitor brightness from 100% to 70% can save over 20%of the total energy used by technology with screens.  Laptop, desktop, and tablet owners can manage their energy consumption by adjusting power settings as well.  “Hibernate” or “sleep” modes reduce power when users are not active but shutting down computers entirely is the most effective saving energy strategy.

Recycling and repairing electronics such as smartphones and tablets will extend their lifespans.  Only one quarter of all electronics is recycled, contributing to a massive global e-waste problem.  To own technology more responsibly, consumers should focus on repairing existing devices and purchasing refurbished ones rather than purchasing new electronics.


2. Stream Intentionally

Every day, music, television, podcasts, and movies are streamed for millions of hours in America alone.  Each time anything is streamed, data is transmitted from a server. One method of reducing the impact of streaming is by downloading content that users plan to view or listen to more than once.  This way, strain is on servers reduced and less energy is consumed in total. Additionally, streaming video in lower resolutions reduces consumption in the same way.  


3. Install an Ad Blocker

On the internet, ads often contain photos, videos, and text graphics.  Since these types of content require a heavy load of data, they use more server energy than other media, such as plain text, does.  Additionally, many ads online are “pop-ups” or unsolicited ads that the user has not elected to view.  Ad blockers drastically reduce the amount of information that servers in data centers need to transmit to devices while also improving user experience by promoting less unwanted advertisement.  


4. Rethink E-Mail Communications

Although it is currently not quantified, experts believe the amount of energy used by stored data from e-mail communication is likely equivalent to that of the entire airline industry.  By simply maintaining clean e-mail inboxes, internet users can decrease global electricity usage significantly.  E-mails that are read, marked as spam, or put in the trash bin use energy until they are deleted; every time an e-mail user logs in to their account, servers transmit all of the data attached to their personal inbox.

More ways to reduce environmental impact through e-mails is by considering the number of attachments that must be sent, the number of e-mails that must be sent, and if the information in an included hyperlink could be attached as text instead.  Each of these actions reduce the amount of energy that servers must use to send e-mails by reducing their data content.


5. Search Consciously

Many internet users rely upon search engines such as Google to find information online.  According to the company, one Google search uses 0.0003 kWh of energy, which results in a carbon footprint of about 0.2 grams.  This is the same amount of energy needed to power an average 60W lightbulb for 17 seconds. Doesn't seem like much, but searches add up!

By reducing the total number of searches made, energy consumption from web browsers can decrease significantly.  Individuals can choose to type a website’s address directly in their browser versus searching for the website on an engine then clicking a link to a page.  This simple action reduces strain on servers and minimizes carbon emissions.  By “bookmarking” or “favoriting” frequently visited pages, internet users can stray away from using energy in their searches.


These five tips contain only a few examples of actions that individuals or companies can practice that will decrease digital carbon footprint.  The global environmental impact of online activity can be significantly minimized by simply browsing consciously and monitoring internet usage. Predictions based on current internet activity trends indicate an environmental crisis on the horizon, but the user base can change these statistics through informed action.

Is your company interested in learning the footprint of its tech? Request a demo from Ecolytics today!

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