When writing an essay about the benefits and harm of the internet, students mostly discuss the impact of the internet on the human mind and everyday practices. A few manage to note the negative impact on the environment, which is growing at a tremendous scale. Read my article, originally published on Predict, to find out more about this topic.
Sustainability has definitely been in the spotlight in recent years, making many people change their everyday practices and even compel businesses to do so.
Like millions of others, you might have turned off the tap while brushing your teeth today in the morning and left your LED bulbs lit house to bike to work instead of driving.
And still, you are sure to have engaged in something, which is highly unsustainable but has been largely escaping the sustainability discourse so far — the use of the internet and cloud storage.
If you or your SME is on the way of adopting a sustainability mindset, there is something you should know about the carbon footprint of the internet and the ways to reduce it.
The Carbon Footprint of the Internet
Emails, searches, and cloud services all rely on the work of
- end-user devices,
- networks, and
Let us not even touch upon the topic of the sustainable production and transportation of the necessary hardware and e-waste, which is inevitable in case of the rapid technology upgrade. Let us look at a more “invisible” impact of IT.
Devices, servers, and data centers use tons of electricity for powering and cooling and release a large amount of Greenhouse Gas (GHG). According to the estimates, the internet produces more than 830 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
As work and entertainment are increasingly moving online and streaming and IoT become more common (these are the biggest drivers of the explosive data growth), this figure is expected to grow by far. For example, experts predict IoT alone to drive the worldwide data increase from 33 ZB in 2018 to 175 ZB in 2025.
The sad part is also that we don’t even use the majority of this data. According to estimates by Veritas, 52% of all information organizations produce and store is dark data — data, which is not in use and which value is unclear. This means that the dark data alone will cause the release of 6.4 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2020. The equal of driving a car around the Earth 575,000 times!
Think of all of the digital photos, emails, and social media chats you personally store, and you would quickly realize that the percentage of your “dark data” may be even higher.
Taking Action to Make the Internet more Sustainable
As in the case of other environmental issues, change starts with rising sustainability awareness so that large corporations, SMEs, and individuals all take joint action to tackle the problem.
Some of the big companies, including Apple, Google, Box, Rackspace, Facebook, and Salesforce, have already set out to make their clouds more eco-friendly buying renewable energy sources to power some of the databases. However, most data centers are still far from being green.
One of the solutions on how to create sustainable data centers was suggested by Lancium, a Texas-based startup. It proposes co-locating data centers with wind and solar power facilities and making them turn on and off depending on the availability of excess power generated by the facilities (often sold off at a loss). Such a move could decrease the price of computing resources, help stabilize the electricity grid, create rural jobs, and make renewable energy companies more profitable.
Internet Use Best Practices that will Help Reduce CO2
As of 2020, 4.57 billion people are active internet users, so the accumulated impact is tremendous. Unplugging your devices and reducing the amount of data you store, you can effectively reduce your carbon footprint. Here are 10 best practices to follow:
- Clear up photos folders,
- Turn off unnecessary notifications,
- Unsubscribe from emails you are not interested in,
- Clear up trash and spam folders,
- Set up automatic deletions of tracking data Google generates,
- Delete unwanted automatic downloads or disable such feature for good,
- Do not use “reply all” when it’s not necessary,
- Set your computer to go into a sleep mode after a few minutes of inaction,
- Unplug chargers and use energy-efficient cords, and
No matter how strange it might sound for those not working in offices:
10. Do not use email or chat to communicate to your coworker sitting at the next table — talk in person.
The industrial revolution increased the living standards but also led to massive pollution and the depletion of natural resources. The new technological revolution and digital transformation come with the benefits and losses too.
It is important that a critical mass of people realize this dark side of the internet and remain mindful of the digital data they produce and store. The sooner, the better.