Your Digital Carbon Footprint

We live in a digitally connected world. Especially now, we have the majority of our interactions every day online. That means that in today’s world, most of our “stuff” lives online in the cloud. We keep e-mails stored in our inbox, we save photos on the cloud and our documents are easily out of sight, out of mind. But, just because we can’t see our digital files, doesn’t mean they aren’t there taking up space and using tons of energy! It turns out that our digital world has a big carbon footprint. 

The Impact Of Zero-Inbox 

According to the Washington Post, in one year, the average person emits 300 pounds of CO2 from one year of incoming e-mails. That is the equivalent of driving 200 miles in a car. How can an e-mail create so much waste? Let’s break it down. Every time we send an e-mail, it requires energy. There is energy from our individual computer or Smartphone and the computer or Smartphone of the person receiving the e-mail. There is the energy from the servers that store the data we share in a new e-mail. Every time we send an e-mail, a data center uses energy to find the piece of information and send it. If your e-mail has a photo or video attachment, it takes even more energy! So while e-mail helps us stay efficient in our workday, it isn’t a very efficient use of energy. 

Energy Use From Data Storage

We can get information stored in the cloud in a matter of seconds. But all of this information doesn’t just appear out of thin air. It is stored in data centers all over the world where there are thousands of computers and servers running 24/7. In order to keep these servers running quickly, they require a ton of energy! There is an added energy cost, because these servers have to keep cool, which means there is also a ton of energy spent on cooling the buildings that house our servers. 

According to Bloomberg, data centers account for 2% of the world’s electricity, and by 2030 data centers could account for 8% of the world’s electricity. Out of all the data that has ever been created, only 6% of it is actively used today. That means, we spend a lot of energy to store data that isn’t even used. 

Because running data centers require so much energy, cloud storage providers are turning to renewable energy sources to power their servers. Companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft have all turned to renewables and moved away from coal to try and limit the environmental impact of data centers. Unfortunately, our need for data storage is growing faster than our renewable energy sector. This means, that even though companies want to power data centers with renewable energy, they won’t be able to completely rely on renewable energy. 

How To Reduce Your Online Carbon Footprint

It may seem small, but there are a few steps that you can take to help reduce the environmental impact of your online footprint. Here are a few easy steps:

  • Unsubscribe: Unsubscribe from e-mail lists to minimize junk mail taking up space in your inbox. 
  • Delete old accounts: You might have old e-mail or social media accounts that you no longer use. Leaving these accounts active means that energy will still be spent to store the data from these accounts. Deleting them can help reduce your online footprint. 
  • Clear browsing history: Regularly clearing out your browsing history, cache and cookies from your web browser can help minimize the amount of data stored on your browser at any given time. 
  • Reduce streaming: Streaming services for music and video require more energy than downloading a file and watching and listening to it. Reducing streaming can help cut down on energy use. 
  • Spend time offline: The best way to reduce your digital carbon footprint is to spend time offline. When you do step away, make sure you power down your device and unplug it so you can make sure to save energy powering your devices.

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