It’s difficult to go through the day without leaving some type of carbon footprint in your wake. What you eat, where you live, and how you get around all impact the environment. It turns out just getting online leaves a carbon footprint, and some companies are trying to combat this.
The Internet’s Carbon Footprint
The world’s total carbon emissions were estimated at 49 billion tons and growing as recently as 2010. Our footprint comes from numerous sources including waste, fuel, and electricity. Last year, the International Energy Agency claimed energy-related CO2 emissions amounted to 32.3 billion metric tons.
The Internet contributes to our carbon footprint by using a tenth of the world’s electricity. It turns out, even the smallest actions taken online can contribute to the world’s carbon footprint simply because connecting to the Internet uses energy, and energy is powered by coal and fossil fuels.
Owners of older model desktop computers average about 4.5 gCO2 equivalent simply by performing a web search. A laptop, on the other hand, uses around 0.2 gCO2e. Sending an email will jack up your carbon footprint by four grams, while total spam sent in a year is estimated to be on par with using two billion gallons of gasoline.
IT-related services, like those that power Netflix, now account for two percent of all global emissions. Expansion plans that’ll bring the Internet to more users across the world in the next few years will only increase our footprint.
What’s Being Done About It?
Thankfully, Internet-related companies are taking notice and are implementing plans to help reduce the effects the Internet has on global emissions.
Facebook recently cut back its power usage needed for storing photos, one of the biggest energy zappers on the site, by 75 percent after building its own cold storage data centers. After receiving backlash from environmentalist the company moved toward using renewable energy like wind power to run its centers.
Apple also announced their facilities are now powered entirely by renewable energy in the U.S., while 87 percent worldwide have gone green. They claim their facilities produce 48 percent less emissions through electricity, though overall emissions have risen due to demand in products.
Still, the company continues to make efforts to erase carbon emissions as much as possible. Apple plans to invest $850 million toward a new solar polar plant to go along with the three already in place. They’re also putting forth $2 billion for a solar command center in Arizona and have developed a solar farm in China.
The company recently topped Greenpeace’s Clean Energy Index. The environmental organization claims if the Internet were a country its electricity consumption would be the sixth largest worldwide.
They’ve touted Google, Facebook and Apple as the most energy-friendly Internet companies in the world while others like Twitter and Amazon Web Services have dismal outlooks.
What Can I Do?
If you’re concerned about your own carbon footprint and how your Internet use is affecting the world, don’t pack up your laptop just yet. There are ways to lessen the impact.
For starters, shut down your computer when you’re not using to keep programs connected to the Internet from running in the background. The same goes with your smartphone, or you can simply go to your settings on your iOS or Android device and block them from browsing the Web.
Also, consider switching to a tablet as they use less energy than your traditional laptop or desktop computer. If you’re using Wi-Fi in your home, implement a secure password so your neighbors can’t leech off of you and boost your footprint.
If you’re interested in understanding how your daily habits affect your overall carbon footprint, The Nature Conservancy offers a handy calculator so you can see how your actions add up. With technological advances in renewable energy growing everyday there will hopefully be a great solution to stop the use of fossil fuels down the road. Until then, look for ways to reduce your daily contributions to global emissions as much as possible.
Photo Credit: dekade/Flikr
Ben Kerns is a fan of all things related to technology and the Internet, especially when it comes to discovering new ways to further merge the two together. When he's not plugged in, he enjoys the great outdoors, healthy living, and singing off-tune to cheesy country songs.