You might be tempted to use all your newfound time – from commutes, revision, or cancelled commitments – to scroll through Instagram. “It’s okay,” you think, “at least I’m not reading – and killing all those trees…” When we’re constantly being reminded of the impact of our actions on the environment, it’s easy to believe that being ‘eco-friendly’ just means sorting out the recycling, ditching the plastic bags, and walking instead of driving. What you might not realise is that the internet – heralded in recent years as a favoured alternative to posting cards – produces almost as much CO2 as the aviation industry. This comes from powering data centres, loading web pages, or just online communication.
According to a study from OVO Energy, 64 million unnecessary emails (including “Thanks” or “Did you get this?”) are sent daily in the UK, which produces 23,475 more tonnes of carbon. An average spam email produces 0.3g carbon. An average ’normal’ email produces 4g, and a ‘long’ email can have around 50g. The average office worker receives around 121 emails per day.
If around 45% is spam mail, 30% ‘normal’ length emails, and 25% ‘long’ emails, their carbon emissions would be:
0.3 x 54.45 = 16.335g from spam mail
4 x 36.3 = 145.2g from normal length mail
50 x 30.25 = 1512.5g from long mail
Altogether it comes to about 1.674kg – the equivalent of driving nearly 14km in an average car (according to the EEA). So: feeling smug about not printing out that document and sending it by email instead might not be so justified. Luckily, there are ways you can reduce your carbon footprint. Only around 20% of retail emails are actually opened – so why not unsubscribe to marketing clutter? Reduce your personal email traffic by not sending unnecessarily long emails. It takes energy to send emails, and to store them – so delete any emails you won’t need in the future. You could even delete any screenshots, apps, or photos no longer needed.
Every website loaded takes energy, too. The average website produces 6.8g of CO2 every time it is loaded. Swapping your computer for a phone for quickly browsing the internet can reduce your carbon footprint as the device uses less energy. However, the carbon footprint of every website varies, depending on whether its servers or data centres (etc) use renewable energies. Next time you’re looking something up on Google or watching a YouTube video, check the carbon footprint of the site you’re using on https://www.websitecarbon.com. It takes into account factors such as number of monthly visits, or if sustainable energy is used – monthly CO2 emission estimates range from 33.33kg of CO2 for google.com and 134.44kg of CO2 for apple.com – and you’ll even find out how many cups of tea you could boil with that energy! Alternatively, visiting https://www.thegreenwebfoundation.org will tell you if a website is using renewable energy, and what percentage.
And if emails or websites weren’t enough, the average Netflix customer produces 300g CO2 every year. Watching TV (on a 42in plasma TV) generates 240g CO2. So when adding to all of this internet traffic, remember the often hidden environmental impacts as you pull out your laptop or turn on the TV a news update at 5pm. Needless to say, at this time technology will be critical for us to continue to stay in touch, continue working, or just to stay entertained. But as well as this, try to find time for a different activity to stimulate your brain – you could do a living room work out, colour, read or play a board game. Be creative (write a book, start a journal…), appreciate the nature around you, or even spend time with the people who surround you.
By Isabelle Ho