July 30, 2021

10 ways to reduce your digital carbon footprint.

Written by Oliver Forster, Director of Corporate Partnerships at ClimateCare 

Over the past year many businesses have seen their emissions fall due to the lack of business-related travel. However, dig into the data a bit more and we can see that, whilst overall emissions have indeed gone down due to a decrease in travel, commuting and digital emissions have actually gone up. And they have gone up dramatically.

Whilst the drop in travel emissions is, unfortunately, likely to only be temporary, the growth in digital emissions is not.

Let’s look at the numbers in a little more detail here. The internet uses a huge amount of energy as a result of two key factors; firstly, the manufacturing and shipping of hardware and digital infrastructure and secondly, the powering and cooling of servers which draw energy from the local grid. It is the storing of data on these servers that is one of the worst offenders when it comes to digital energy use. Far from being invisible, ‘the cloud’ (and the technology used to run it) account for about one percent of global electricity demand, and that is set to increase to 15-30% of electricity demand in some countries by 2030.

All this energy use creates carbon emissions. The carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet and the systems supporting them accounts for a staggering 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions. Worse still, these emissions are predicted to double by 2025.  At approximately 1.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, this equates to more than the carbon footprint of all the cars on the road in the UK and US each year.

Businesses of all sizes need to start taking responsibility for their entire carbon footprint in order to achieve Net Zero. This involves measuring and reducing everything from supply chain emissions, the emissions created by product use to their digital footprint too.

At its most basic, achieving Net Zero requires us all to take three essential actions: Measure, Reduce and Compensate for emissions

  • Measure: Businesses need to measure their emissions to understand their impact and environmental footprint. This includes taking into account the footprint of their employees who are working from home and the digital footprint of their operations too.
  • Reduce: Once they understand what this footprint looks like, they must reduce their carbon footprint every year, in line with what science tells us is necessary to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees.
  • Compensate: As they journey to Net Zero, businesses should compensate for any unavoidable emissions through high quality carbon reduction projects.

Given that reduction is pivotal in this process, we have listed ten things that every businesses (and indeed their employees) can do today, to reduce their digital footprint:

  1. Switch off auto play when using social media and avoid using video if you only need audio;
  2. Close tabs you are not using to avoid videos playing in the background;
  3. Limit how often you use reply all to emails;
  4. Unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t need to receive;
  5. Shut down your computer if you are away from it for more than two hours;
  6. Consider storing your data on a green cloud provider; 
  7. Dim your monitor. Dimming from 100% to 70% can save up to 20% of the energy the monitor uses;
  8. Be mindful that, even in sleep mode, a computer continues to burn energy; 
  9. Hold onto IT equipment for as long as possible and get it repaired rather than buying a new device;
  10. Be selective about the tech providers you work with and take time to review their environmental policies. Most importantly though, consider the actions they are taking right now to become more sustainable.

Ultimately, the energy used in our digital consumption emits the equivalent amount of CO2 as the entire airline industry; a fact that, until recently, has stayed under the radar. Businesses need to address this overlooked area of emissions to have a chance of achieving Net Zero and fulfilling their commitments.

If you want to know more about your digital footprint, take a look at our carbon footprint of the internet infographic.