Sustainability Seconds: Review "The Surprising Cost of Being Online”

Posted on December 03, 2021

Sustainability Internet

“Am I doing enough?” That is a question that most people ask themselves daily. Am I doing enough for my significant other? Am I doing enough for my children? Am I doing enough for my employer? Am I doing enough for the planet, and the millions, and billions, of people that will live after me? Okay, we may not ask ourselves that last one every day, but we should! Every action that we take every single day has an impact on the future. And the small actions that we take as individuals to protect our planet can add up to an enormous positive impact on the quality of life for future generations.

The BBC published a series of articles titled “Smart Guide to Climate Change”. These articles looked at scientific data to determine the most effective strategies that we, as individuals, can take to help reduce our carbon footprint. The series deals with topics that are common aspects of most people’s daily routines: refrigerators, staying warm, fashion, internet usage, etc. We wanted to look at a couple of the articles that were most eye-opening to us and share them with you in our new series called “Sustainability Seconds”. This series will be used to discuss current topics in sustainability, tips to improve our individual carbon footprints, and share news about our sustainability commitments, goals, and achievements.

The first article that caught our attention was “The surprising cost of being online” by Sarah Griffiths. At the time this article was written, I had already written and sent several emails, messaged colleagues back and forth on Microsoft Teams, and pulled up the BBC articles in preparation for this article. Each of these activities took energy. Energy to power the devices used to execute the desired tasks. The smallest energy price that was paid included the energy needed to power the laptop and monitor, as well as the energy needed to power the wireless network used to browse the internet and send the emails. Before reading this article, I never would have thought about the energy required to power the data centers and servers used to store the content we access via the internet. I encourage you to visit the link above and read the full article, but some of the highlights are below.

Here are the simple facts:

  • Almost 54% of the world’s population now uses the internet (4.1 billion people)
  • Carbon emissions associated with internet searches and the devices they are carried out on make up almost 4% of global greenhouse emission totals, and this is expected to double in 4 years
  • On average, each of us is responsible for about 900 pounds of carbon dioxide emission per year just from energy associated with internet tasks

There are several things we can do to help cut the greenhouse gases emitted due to the internet and the devices used to access it.

By not upgrading our computers and phones as often we can reduce the greenhouse emissions associated with their manufacturing and transportation. The article suggests that a recent study found that increasing upgrade cycle times from 4 to 6 years can help avoid over 400 pounds of carbon emissions. Using eco-friendly messaging is another way we can reduce our carbon footprint. Video calls are the most energy demanding of the internet communication methods. Energy needed for emails, although small on a per email basis, add up quickly due to the high volume of emails an average user sends per day. Texts and phone calls are much more eco-friendly alternatives. Communicating via these methods is important, and necessary, but we can all be mindful of the types of emails that we send, and the number of data heavy files attached in them. It is also important to note that emissions associated with a video call, or a phone call, are much lower than those associated with traveling to meet someone face-to-face so, if a meeting can be replaced with a video call, it is still a much better option for the environment.

Clean searching is another suggested method for reducing the carbon emissions associated with our daily internet usage. Search engines such as Google and Bing are taking measures to reduce and offset the carbon emissions associated with their business operations, but newer search engines such as Ecosia have promised to plant one tree for every 45 searches it performs. Searching the internet is still more eco-friendly than looking through a book, but we should be mindful of the searches that we make.

Lastly, we can all admit that most of the time we use the internet to stave off boredom. Netflix and other streaming services, music downloads, watching YouTube, and online video gaming all cost an energy price to perform. Some tips for reducing the energy costs and emissions associated with these parts of your life include using Wi-Fi to perform searches and streaming rather than mobile networks, playing video games that do not require constant data heavy updates, watching streamed videos in lower resolution, and turning off automatic app updates.

The Avanti and Croda teams are dedicated to improving the lives of people through our smart science. Improving lives is not only done through the products that we offer or the solutions that we develop, but also by impacting the earth and its climate in a positive way. You’ve seen some of our sustainability initiatives and awards as a business; however, sustainability is not something that should only be discussed and strived for by businesses. Sustainability is a goal that each of us should contribute to on an individual level. So, regarding our actions that impact the environment, let’s start asking ourselves daily, “Am I doing enough?