Engineering Tech

How “Green” is the Internet?

You didn’t print that email, so you are helping reduce global warming, right? Think again. Your time online isn’t as green as you think. For every mouse click, or swipe on an app, there is a server processing data, and it adds up!

Universally, the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) is a measurement used to determine how “green” something is. Essentially a CO2e measure considers the carbon footprint of an array of greenhouse gases; the higher the CO2e is, the higher the impact on global warming. As the world evolves to an increasingly higher reliance on digital platforms, it is more important than ever to understand the carbon footprint and its impact on our natural environment. 

How green is the internet?

  • Search Engines: approximately 0.2 g CO2e per search 
  • Email:
    • Spam: 0.3g CO2e
    • Regular Email: 4g CO2e
    • Email with Photo or Large Attachment: 50g CO2e
  • Video Streaming: 1 g CO2e for every 10 minutes of content watched
  • Social Media: 0.02 g CO2e per tweet on Twitter; 0.15 per photo posted (and 1.55 CO2e per scroll in your feed) on Instagram

Now that you’re more aware of the internet’s carbon footprint, you might be wondering what can be done to reduce its impact? We’re glad you asked. 

  1. Taking small steps to reduce your email carbon footprint. 

We can all make a difference by making small changes in our everyday lives. For example, unsubscribing from an e-newsletter that you don’t read is a great way to help the environment and reduce clutter in your inbox. Speaking of lowering email clutter, you can all stop hitting “reply all” if it is not necessary or cease responding with a quick “thank you.” Reducing your time on the web can also expand the life of your electronics for up to two years! 

  1. Making informed decisions on which social media/tech giants companies you use. 

It is no surprise that some companies are striving to become carbon neutral, while others are not. Since 2010, Greenpeace has been advocating for a greener internet. In the past, they have issued a #ClickClean report that grades companies on how green they are in their video, messaging, and music. In the 2017 #ClickClean report, Google Hangouts, Instagram, and iMessage received an A grade in the messaging category, while Twitter failed with an F. Some companies are taking environmental action as well. The German search engine company Ecosia states it will plant a tree for every 45 searches it performs.   

  1. Know what kind of energy is fueling your online usage. 

It is clear the old way of doing things is not sustainable, and big tech companies will have to adjust the way things are done to reduce carbon emissions as their platforms grow. In recent years, Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft have all made efforts to purchase “clean energy.” Clean energy is derived from renewable, zero-emissions sources.  

Data processing centers are the heart of where big tech’s energy problems lie. There are many methodologies used to cool a data center, therefore figuring out how to sustainably cool these centers will have the most significant impact on reducing carbon emissions. Microsoft’s Project Natick is currently researching if an autonomous data center in the ocean can be reliable and powered by renewable energy.

As we all embark on a more virtual, cloud-based world, we still need to be mindful of our carbon footprint. Our actions matter, and by supporting green initiatives and making greener personal choices, the Hot Girls have faith we can positively impact the environment! So continue to not print that email, just know that’s only scratching the surface of living green. 

Hot for more?

READ: How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything

LISTEN: IRL Podcast: The Internet’s Carbon Footprint

WATCH: Is the Internet Bad for the Environment?

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