Be A Greener Online Surfer!
Written by Stephanie
May 2, 2023
Ah, it’s so good to go surfing online, right! So many things to click, see, download, swipe and all the rest! The internet is a special place. At least for those of us who are not techies, it even seems to come out of almost ‘nowhere’. Even words like the ‘cloud’ and the ‘web’ make the internet seem like ‘another world’ altogether, almost magical.
It’s not magic, of course, and, furthermore, the internet does come with an often-overlooked price tag: its ecological footprint. Many people don’t realize just how carbon-intensive the Internet and online usage is, i.e. neither good for climate change nor the environment generally.
So, why is the internet so ‘ungreen?’ And what are the small ways in which you can try to be a little ‘greener’ with your online usage and habits? Read on…
Why Is the Internet Not So Green?
You can begin by asking the question: just how much energy does the internet actually use? The answer: a lot! All those digital devices, from smartphones to laptops and tablets, all require energy to run. More and more people worldwide are going online each year, and there’s the Internet of Things (IoT), meaning devices can communicate with each other. That means even more energy consumption.
Much of this energy consumption takes place at the heart of the internet: servers. Or, more specifically, data centres. These ‘digital train stations’ of the internet can be enormous, the size of large warehouses, with around 50% of them being ‘hyperscale’. That refers to centres that have more than 5,000 servers and are often larger than 1,000m². That’s big!
Energy is not only needed to power all these servers. You know how hot your device can sometimes get, right? Well, imagine the heat generated by data centres. All that equipment needs to be cooled down, 24/7.
Your Online Surfing May Be Quite ‘Un-Green’
So, where does that leave you, the individual online user? Well, like so many things environmental, it’s not so much about our own footprint that makes all the difference, but how we contribute collectively. For example, all those servers and our various gadgets altogether account for about 3.7% of greenhouse gases, according to the BBC. That’s roughly what the global airline industry emits. We all contribute to that each time we log on.
So, each time you download a webpage or stream a video online, there is a carbon footprint or impact to that. This can range from a minimal 0.2 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) when visiting a Google page to as much as 54.0 grams per visit to more image-heavy websites. That’s how the average online user contributes an average of approximately 414kilograms (or 912 pounds) of carbon dioxide a year, with many users contributing far more than that.
Our online habits can greatly influence our digital carbon footprint. For example, watching a YouTube video in crystal-clear 4K consumes 25% more energy than watching the same video in UHD. It’s even more dramatic with Netflix or any movie-streaming service, since movies are longer and more data-dense. Just viewing a movie in high quality definition requires nearly 25 times more energy than viewing it in low quality!
Small Ways Your Online Surfing Can Be Greener
There are small ways in which we can make a difference with our online habits.
Just being smarter with your emails can make a difference. For example:
- Don’t send attachments with your emails if you can. At least ten times more energy is needed to send an attachment than it is to simply link the needed doc;
- Don’t send emails to multiple recipients unless absolutely necessary. The more emails go out, the more energy is used to send them;
- Unsubscribe from mailing lists you no longer read as much as you can. Consider this: the average person receives 2,850 unwanted emails every year, which equates to 28.5kg (63lbs) of CO
- Clean out your inbox! Get anti-spam software for your emails and regularly ‘spring clean’ your inbox. Why do you think your email server is always sending out messages for you to do just that – or limiting how much space your email has? Remember those data centres…
Also, try limiting going online on your mobile device. That’s because mobile networks use at least twice the energy that your home WiFi does. Or how about stopping your habit of falling asleep with Youtube as ‘background noise’. It’s what even Google dubs ‘generating carbon for no gain’.
Making Your Website Or Profile Greener
If you have a business website or even a more flashy online profile, you should consider their carbon footprint. There are some simple ways of ensuring that your website or profile is less carbon-intense:
- Use a ‘green’ web host
- Improve site navigation, thereby making info easily found
- Optimise images to reduce their file size
- Use video sparingly
- Have web caching in place
- Delete old or defunct pages or info
Even search engine optimization (SEO) has come under scrutiny. ‘Green SEO’ has become all the rage, as more SEO experts and website owners realize the importance of having users find webpages they need with less clicks. ‘Leaner’ SEO means less trillions of keywords (yes, trillions!) floating around in cyberspace, eating up unnecessary energy. Who would have thought, right?
And if you want to calculate the exact carbon emissions of your website or social media platform profile, then just visit this website.
It’s not all doom and gloom. The good news is that data centres have become far more energy efficient in recent years. This has offset the growing number of online users and devices globally. And, relax, you’re not single-handedly causing global warming just because you enjoy Netflix!
But we do nevertheless have an impact with our digital habits, especially collectively. And being aware is to be a part of the solution. So, make those little changes wherever you can. Mother Earth thanks you.