What Is a Digital Carbon Footprint And How Can I Reduce It?

So What Is It?

In a nut shell, a Digital Carbon Footprint is a marking of the energy used from running digital devices and the usage of digital space. It’s something I’m relatively new to and something I’m still working towards being more conscious about.

I figured, as we’re all stuck indoors at the moment, maybe we can focus on what we CAN do rather than what we CAN’T.

As we can’t see it, it’s easy to think it’s not as big of a problem as it is. What harm can your Netflix binge really do? Well, “The non-profit organisation The Shift Project (PDF) looked at nearly 170 international studies on the environmental impact of digital technologies. According to the experts, their share of global CO2 emissions increased from 2.5 to 3.7 percent between 2013 and 2018. That means that our use of digital technologies now actually causes more CO2 emissions and has a bigger impact on global warming than the entire aviation industry![1]

That’s pretty scary isn’t it? Using the popular search engine Google, requires around 0.0003kWh of energy, which doesn’t seem like a lot. But times that by only 200 and you have the same amount of energy needed to iron a shirt. Its estimated that the average energy used by one person in one month by google searching is enough to power a 60kWh lightbulb for 3 hours.

You might be thinking, that still doesn’t sound like a lot? Well, maybe not on an individual level, but “according to the most commonly quoted statistics, Google alone receives around 3.8 million search queries a minute. All of those add up to an energy consumption that Google itself put at 5.7 terawatt hours – for 2015 alone. The annual energy consumption of the city of San Francisco is probably around the same.”[1] 

Photo by Taylor Friehl on Unsplash

What Can We Do?

Luckily, there are some easy things we can do to help. I’m sure you’re all after things to do with your days now so this is the perfect opportunity to start on a good foot, or should I say, footprint. 

Turn Off Your Devices

Turning off your devices when you aren’t using them will not only reduce your digital carbon footprint but it will also save you money! Granted a lot of newer electronic devices use far less power than older ones but by turning them off you are getting into a good habit, you are also less likely to go back to the item and use it when you don’t need to. If you had to get up and turn your tv on at the wall every time, wouldn’t you be more likely to just go and do that thing you’re supposed to be doing instead of Netflix binging? 

Switch To A Better Search Engine

I’ve been using Ecosia for several years now, I actually have a post about them already that you can read here. Ecosia uses the money it makes from your searches to plant trees to help offset their carbon footprint. So far, Ecosia have planted over 90 MILLION trees in over 9000 sites. Ecosia do this so well that with every search you make on their site, you actually remove 1KG of C02 from the atmosphere. This means that if Ecosia were as big as Google, it could absorb 15% of all global CO2 emissions.

Photo by Krsto Jevtic on Unsplash
Empty Your Email Boxes

The first thing to understand is your emails aren’t stored in a magical cloud floating in space. Your data is stored in what’s called a Server. These are held in large Data Centres all around the world and are ran constantly whilst being cooled to ensure they don’t overheat. “the UK’s largest data centre is the KAO Data Campus, which consists of four data centres which combine to a total of 150,000 sq ft of server space. Indeed, if Internet was a country, it will be the 3rd biggest energy consumer in the world.”[2] By reducing the digital space you use, you can help reduce the amount of energy used to keep that digital space running.

Get Rid Of Duplicates

As with your email inboxes, most photos are stored digitally on a cloud. Like we looked at above, these “clouds” take a lot of energy to run and to keep your items stored safely and securely. By removing duplicate photos, documents, songs, movies etc that you are storing digitally, you can help reduce the space you are using in these Date Centres.

Some Other Little Things You Can Do:

  • Switch To A Renewable Energy Supplier
  • Use Autocomplete For Internet Searches
  • Unsubscribe To Unwanted Emails

I hope this has given you some important things to think about. There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to digital carbon footprints but I don’t want to overwhelm you all at once! 

If you want, you can have a read over the references below as I found them very useful and informative. In the meantime, Stay Safe & Happy Earth Day x

[1] RESET
[2] CLEANFOX

10 thoughts on “What Is a Digital Carbon Footprint And How Can I Reduce It?”

  1. This is amazing. I, like I’m sure many others do, try to think about my carbon footprint in terms of travel and energy use but how to reduce it digitally seems impossible. These are great suggestions, and fairly easy to adapt to as well. It always makes me smile when I see blog views coming from ecosia. It’s nice to know people are trying x

    Sophie

  2. I have never read anything like this before, so I loved reading this! I have always tried to keep my inbox empty, but cleaning out old files and duplicate images is a great idea to keep digital space empty! 🙂

  3. These are all such great ways to reduce your carbon footprint! I need to implement these ideas too. And also, thanks for explaining what exactly a carbon footprint is. This was so informative for me!

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