What Our Digital Footprint Is And How It Affects Our Planet
Written by Elizabeth Waddington
When you are trying to live more sustainably, one key thing to consider is the carbon footprint of everything you buy, use and do. But trying to work out how much carbon is emitted in your name can be a minefield. And there are a number of things most people do not consider. One key area that individuals often forget when thinking about carbon emissions is their digital footprint.
You might not realize it, but every time you send an email, search the internet, upload or download, each online action comes at a cost. Each time you do something online or in the digital world, this results in a small amount of real-world carbon emissions. Of course, it takes energy to run your devices, and to power the wireless networks you access. Even more energy is required to power the data centers and vast servers that keep the Internet running, and store content.
Each individual digital action only requires a small amount of energy, and results in a small amount of emissions. But those individual actions add up. Over 4 billion people, over half the global population, are now online. And all that online activity accounts for around 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions. This means that our digital activity contributes relatively significantly to our climate crisis. And things will only get worse. Emissions from digital actions are predicted to double by 2025.
Those of us who live in the developed nations of the world obviously carry the lion's share of the global digital footprint. It is important that those of us lucky enough to have good online access do what we can to reduce the impacts of our activities – not just in the real world in our everyday lives, but in the digital realm too.
What Can Be Done to Reduce Digital Footprint?
Of course, a large proportion of the responsibility for lowering digital footprint lies with tech companies and businesses within this sector. They can use renewable energy for data centers, and work for greater efficiencies. And those who manufacture the devices and equipment we use can work towards lower emissions and greater sustainability.
But as individuals, we can all make a difference too. Of course, we can do so by looking into the devices we use, and the companies we choose. The more we learn about the options we take, the better equipped we will be to make the best decisions for our planet and humanity.
When it comes to the devices we use, we can play a role in reducing emissions by keeping them in use for as long as possible. By extending the time you use a single computer and monitors from 4-6 years, you could avoid the equivalent of 419lbs (190kg) of carbon emissions. You can also reduce your impact by making sure you send devices and electronic equipment for recycling at the end of its useful life.
We can also change the way we use our devices and spend time online in order to cut our digital footprints.
- Go easy on emails, send fewer, and avoid large attachments where possible.
- Consider sending texts rather than emails for simple communications.
- Unsubscribe from emails you don't want to read.
- Delete email backlogs so they do not need to be stored.
- Consider switching to a lower screen resolution when a higher one is not required.
- Make sure you don't have videos playing accidentally in the background.
- Stream over Wifi rather than mobile networks to use less energy.
- Delete old apps, music, videos, etc. that you no longer want or need.
You can also choose a green search engine – like Ecosia, which plants a tree for every 45 searches. And try to host websites or visit websites that are hosted on green servers in preference to those that are not.
And, of course, you can limit the time you spend in the digital world. Get away from your screens and head out into the natural world, read a great book, develop new hobbies or hone new skills. Try a digital detox and you can avoid creating a digital footprint altogether – at least for a short period of time.
We can all do our part by being more aware of our carbon footprint – including our digital footprint online. And recognize that even when we are in the digital world – our actions and choices have real-world consequences.
Taking a few simple steps to think more carefully about the devices we choose to access the Internet, and to consider how data moves and is stored, we can begin to move towards zero waste and eco-friendly action in the digital world, as well as in other areas of our lives.