Digital carbon footprint simply means emissions of greenhouse gases essentially Carbon dioxide and Methane due to some sort of digital activity. Moreover, carbon emissions are bad for our planet since they cause climatic changes by trapping heat, and they also contribute to respiratory diseases from smog and air pollution. Extreme weather, food supply disruptions, and increased wildfires are other effects of climate change which are caused by these emissions.

HOW?

When we make a search query on the internet, any video we watch and any e-mail we exchange, all around the world, it all adds up to an escalating global rise of CO2 emissions. Our increasing dependence on digital tools has an environmental influence that’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
And now that you know how these happen from our side we need to know how the carbon emissions occur. Although the internet’s data is obviously invisible, it is processed and stored in bulky physical data centres all over the world. They are powered 24/7, just tending to send information to us and that data eventually leads to the contribution of our digital carbon footprints.

WHY?

Here the question why is not about, Why this happens because the answer is self-explanatory. That is all the servers either use a renewable or non-renewable source of energy. Those who use non-renewable sources of energy are the ones who produce carbon emissions the most.

Why we need to reduce digital carbon footprint is the biggest question.

SOME STRIKING STATISTICS-

  1. Talking about our internet activities, one google search emits up to 7 grams of CO2 equivalent to driving a car up to 52 feet.
  2. 1MB of data in its total life cycle emits 20 grams of CO2 which is equivalent to an old 60-watt lamp lit for 25 minutes.
  3. 20 emails/day/ year sent by a person is equivalent to the carbon emissions created by a car travelling 1000kms.
  4. A wifi router consumes 10kw and large data centres consume 1/10th the output of a thermal power station.
  5. Just hovering over a webpage emits 0.2 grams of CO2 / second.
  6. If a web user makes an average of 2.6 web searches per day, this user can be extrapolated to be emitting 9.9 kg of CO2 equivalent per year.
  7. Using a laptop burns 15–17 watts of power when switched on.
  8. IT industry emits 830 million kgs of CO2/year.

NETFLIX VS YOUTUBE-

Greenpeace, an NGO which exposes global environmental problems in a non-violent creative manner, has rated both companies on various factors like transparency, energy make up, and efficiency.

Netflix received a “D” because it rarely makes its composition of energy usage public and also because of its lack of advocacy and leadership when it comes to greening data servers and ultimately the internet.

YouTube, on the other hand, received an “A” because it is owned and operated by Google, which has purchased over 2.5 Gigawatts of renewable energy for its data servers, has implemented tools like machine-learning in their centres to better streamline storage and recall, as well as committing to and being transparent about a 100% renewable goal for its energy demand.

HOW THE BIG IT COMPANIES ARE DEALING WITH THIS PROBLEM?

FACEBOOK-

  1. Facebook uses renewable energy in all its data centres all around the world.
  2. Its data centre in Iowa uses 100 % wind energy which is renewable.
  3. It has reduced carbon emissions by 59 % since the year of 2017.
  4. It is one of the biggest corporate renewable energy buyers after google.

5. Now, this picture basically shows how Facebook uses renewable energy to power the servers and data centres and then, the heat energy and hot air produced from the servers is sent over water coils to heat water and then, this hot water is delivered to various homes through a network along with the help of a local heat pump facility.

This system prevails in Odense, a big city in Denmark and it provides this help to 7000 local homes since 2017

APPLE-

  1. Apple has purchased wind energy systems for its Oregon and California data centres.
  2. Apple claims to have reduced its carbon emissions by 64%.
  3. Nevada data centres are run by geothermal energy. This data centre being operated in a desert is a good job done by apple as they just have to cool the servers in the day and in the night the desert gives the cooling effect to these on its own. Hence much amount of electricity is saved.
  4. North Carolina and Arizona data centres are run by solar energy.
Apple’s Solar Powered Data Centre located at Arizona

GOOGLE-

  1. Google launched a data centre sustainability program that has many internal programs to solve this problem. Its goal is to power the data centres 24hrs with renewable energy.
  2. Google’s Finnish data centre is almost 99% renewable.
  3. It uses an idea called ‘Circularity’ that creates a closed-loop that emphasizes on reuse and recycling of input materials and waste before dumping it.
  4. It is also the biggest corporate renewable energy buyer.
  5. It uses industrial canal and seawater and air in Belgium, Finland and Iceland to cool its Data Centres.
  6. It has reached 87% Land diversion- meaning 87% of worn-out parts and equipment that otherwise would have been shipped to the dump is now being recycled in some form or other which is a huge deal. And fortunately, this percentage has become 100% today after 3 years in the European data centres.
  7. Google has enabled some optimizing features like lite mode which reduces the number of webpages or information we get from a specific google search.

A STATEMENT-

The biggest tech giants like Facebook, Google, Microsoft & Apple have claimed to become carbon neutral by 2030 which is a huge statement as no matter how much competition exists between these companies they all share a similar concern that is — A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR THE PLANET.

OUR ROLE-

To tackle this, here are some small steps we all should take, that can gradually make a difference.
1. We should reduce the size of the documents we send by email to reduce the weight of the message and regularly delete emails that have been dealt with, and we should not forget to empty the bin.

2. We should use hypertext links rather than an attachment and compress large documents.

3. We should unsubscribe from newsletters/ emails we don’t read.

4. We should enter the address of a website if we know it rather than going through a search engine.
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We should make our regularly viewed websites as bookmarks.

5. We should put our laptop on sleep mode when not in use for a short span of time.

6. We should download the videos that we need to watch instead of streaming, as the logic here is that it will pull the data out of the server just once when downloaded but multiple times while streaming.

7. We should use monitors by lowering the brightness which reduces energy usage by 20% and also reduces the strain our eye faces, and use dark mode always while using a laptop or a mobile phone to reduce energy consumption as well.

8. In addition to these, we should start using Telegram more than any other communicating medium like WhatsApp since Telegram has cloud-based data centres, so it will reduce carbon emissions at a higher level.

9. Google tracks and keeps a lot of data and information by monitoring our search habits which uses a lot of storage hence leading to more emission of CO2. So, we should start moving on to Ecosia, a search engine which plants a tree on every search made.
Then we have other search engines that work for the betterment of the environment and betterment of the planet like Givewater, Elliot, Givero, Lilo and Ekoru.

After you have read this, make people around you aware about all the causes and consequences of our daily internet activities and how it affects us and explain all these steps that will help them to reduce the carbon emissions as much as possible. Even though it is late for us to realize this problem but it is a small start at the ground level. And all these Small actions today will lead to bigger changes in the future.