Eco Comment – Your Internet Carbon Footprint: Part 2

08 February 2024

Welcome to part 2 of being more eco-aware on the computer. If you read last week’s Eco Comment you will no doubt have done a quick ‘unsubscribe’ to those daily emails that are set to inform (or are more likely trying to persuade you to buy something). I have. My inbox can now be free to accept those emails that I want to read. The source of my information is now almost 4 years old but still relevant. If you want to read it in full it’s ‘Why your internet habits are not as clean as you think’ by Sarah Griffiths and was published as part of the BBC Smart Guide to Climate Change in March 2020.

Emails use up a considerable amount of carbon, but sending an SMS text message is a much more carbon-friendly way of staying in touch. But again, if you add gifs, emojis and images, you up the carbon. Surprisingly, a one-minute audio phone call is only a little higher than a text, but add the visual and that’s more carbon you’re using up. Conferencing calls around the world use a considerable amount of carbon, but only 7% of the carbon used when travelling to meet in person.

Searching on the internet, which is where I started this research, is another tricky carbon-using activity. The big companies that you possibly use daily are now using a ‘mixture of renewable energy and carbon offsetting (a trading mechanism that allows entities such as governments, individuals, or businesses to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions by supporting projects that reduce, avoid or remove emissions elsewhere. Wikipedia) to reduce the carbon footprint’. One search engine has promised to become carbon negative by 2030.

Note to self: There are other, newer search engines that are greener. Some say they will plant a tree for say 45 searches but how big is the tree, how long does it grow for and what happens to it when it’s chopped down? I’ve just searched (using my usual search engine – sad face) and discover there are at least 12 eco-friendly search engines which, as well as being sustainable, don’t necessarily track your information and ‘share’ it with other companies. A win-win situation.

Sadly, I also discover that finding information on the web is more sustainable than browsing in books. ‘A paperback’s carbon footprint is around 1kg C02e and a weekend newspaper accounts for between 0.3kg and 4.1kg C02e, making reading a newspaper online more environmentally friendly [than reading a newspaper]’. The good news there though is that 2,300 paperback books is a similar carbon footprint as a flight from London to Hong Kong! Phew, my guilt is assuaged.

Using the internet to ‘Beat Boredom’ accounted for 60% of the world’s internet traffic in 2020 and generated 300m tonnes of carbon dioxide, roughly 1% of global emissions. I wonder how much that has grown since then? There are now so many more streaming platforms and online things like podcasts to keep us amused. Who knew that when switching on the television to watch a streamed film around half the power goes into powering the TV and other half goes into powering the streaming platform. To give them their due, they insist that they purchase ‘renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets to compensate for any energy that comes from fossil fuel sources’. To put this into perspective, one of these companies said that it’s ‘total global consumption reached 451,000 megawatt hours which is enough to power 37,000 homes’!

Streaming and downloading music is also a high impact activity. The 5 billion plays of a single one-minute music video in 2017 clocked up as much electricity as Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic put together in a single year.

Using your phone over your mobile network uses twice the amount of using your wi-fi at home. So watching something on your train journey can be quite expensive, even more so if you use it as wallpaper and fall asleep. A very expensive (on the environment) lullaby.

Those of you with gamers in the house need to be aware that they tend to have a high carbon footprint due to the amount of data that they store and use, but so does any form of social media.

Our personal online usage is variable and we can do something positive about lessening it. The IT industry’s greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to reach 14% of global emissions by 2040, but the UN’s International Telecommunications Union has set the industry the target of reducing it’s emissions by 45% over the next decade. It’s reassuring to know that they are fully conscious of the effect their industry has on our environment and that, if they stick to their promises, then maybe then our searching will be more guilt-free.

Susan Morgan
Eco Group

Want to know more about the Eco Group?

Wakefield Cathedral’s Eco Group brings together members of the congregation, volunteers and staff to work towards making the cathedral a greener place to work and worship.

The Eco Group achieves its goals through a variety of activities, including partnerships with local community groups.

We invite anyone and everyone to reach out if they are interested in joining the eco group, or simply finding out more about what we do.

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