The digital transformation has brought about many changes in the way we all live our lives, as, increasingly, life is conducted on the internet, with communication, music, data storage, and even social connection, moving online. As a result, internet traffic has tripled in the past 8 years, and data centres are now thought to consume around 1% of global electricity. The carbon impact of digital technologies is enormous and shows no signs of slowing, however, awareness of our own individual digital carbon footprint is worryingly low. Each email you send, each web page you visit, each photo you take that is automatically uploaded to the cloud, and each minute you spend mindlessly scrolling, results in carbon emissions.
There are a number of simple changes that we can each make to reduce the size of our digital carbon footprint, and this year’s Green Impact Project undertaken by the Department of Professional Administrative Services aims to raise awareness of these changes among the University of Worcester community in the hope that this could alter some behaviours for the better.
Here are the top tips for reducing your digital carbon footprint.
1. Reduce your power consumption
Devices still consume power when in standby mode. Even the super efficient M1 Mac Mini, left idle, could emit 7.39 kg CO2 per year – the equivalent of charging a smartphone almost 900 times or driving 18 miles in a car. So turn off your computer and other devices at the end of each day.
You can also reduce your monitor screen brightness. 25-45% is suitable for most indoor use, and results in significantly reduced energy consumption. Additionally, using dark mode on a mobile phone wherever possible reduces the amount of energy required to operate it.
2. Limit internet use and emails
It was estimated that the internet’s aggregated CO2 emissions in 2020 were 1.7 billion tonnes. (For context, the Australian wildfires in 2019-20 generated 0.7 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions). All websites have a carbon footprint, with the average website page view producing approximately 1.76g of CO2. So reduce your carbon footprint by reducing your internet use: cut down on the time spent endlessly scrolling through feeds and watching videos, or even impose ‘screen time’ limits, especially for social media apps.
Both sending and keeping emails also adds to your carbon footprint: sending/receiving just 35 emails a day can contribute around 40kg of CO2 emissions per year, so only send emails that are absolutely necessary, and reduce the number and size of any attachments, as this also increases the associated emissions. Send a link to a stored file instead, and remove images from signatures, unless they are optimised for email. Purge stored emails regularly, and unsubscribe from any email newsletters you no longer read as this will reduce the number of emails you receive. If each person in the UK sent one less email in any given day, it would reduce CO2 emissions by 16,443 tonnes!
3. Reduce your cloud storage
A lot of people are not aware of the carbon cost of cloud storage, but every 100GB of data stored in the cloud could generate 0.2 tonnes of carbon emissions per year. A staggering 90% of that data is simply stored and never used again, and only 6% is used regularly. So regularly delete documents and photos you no longer need (selfies, accidental screenshots, blurry or repeated images) rather than upgrade to increase storage capacity.
4. Reduce your e-waste
Around 80% of IT’s carbon footprint comes not from operational use, but from the manufacture and distribution of equipment: everything from SIM cards to hard disks, cables, laptops, monitors, server racks and other technologies required to operate them. Therefore, it would be advisable to try and keep equipment for longer and get things repaired or buy second hand rather than buying new before it’s absolutely necessary. In 2022, the amount of harmful electronic waste that was produced was around 60 million metric tonnes – heavier than the entire Great Wall of China – so consider how you dispose of unwanted items too.
Information taken from Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) report ‘Exploring digital carbon footprints’. Available online from: https://beta.jisc.ac.uk/reports/exploring-digital-carbon-footprints