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The carbon footprint of the Internet - How do streaming services affect our climate?

author
Natalie
Head of Communication

When discussing the climate crisis, terms such as livestock farming, meat consumption, transportation and fast fashion are part of the basic vocabulary. These CO2 emitters are commonly known and are often the first places people turn to when they want to reduce their own CO2 emissions.

However, CO2 emissions often occur quite unconsciously: when showering, vacuuming or even while using the Internet. That's right! Even a simple search on Google causes CO2 emissions.

How does using the Internet cause CO2 emissions?

No matter if you are at home, in the supermarket or on vacation in somewhere in Europe - you can access the Internet no matter where you are. This requires certain conditions and technical prerequisites. In order to be online 24/7, an enormously large amount of energy must be produced.

This is where data centers or server rooms come into play. These centers or rooms are physical locations where data and applications are processed and stored. These data centers and server rooms run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Large amounts of electricity are consumed in the process, with a significant portion of this electricity demand being taken up by the air conditioning of the facilities.

We know that generating electricity is associated with CO2 emissions. Some technologies emit more CO2 (burning coal, oil, and natural gas) and some emit less (wind, hydro, and solar). Energy-intensive activities, such as surfing the Internet, are therefore significantly reflected in the CO2 footprint.

Comparing CO2 emissions of the Internet

To illustrate the energy consumption and thus the CO2 emissions of surfing the Internet, we collected some illustrative comparisons. See for yourself what an enormous impact streaming, clicking and scrolling has on the CO2 footprint:

  • In one second, Google records a staggering 47,000 search queries. Scientist Joana Moll calculated the CO2 emissions of these search queries at half a ton of CO2. That is equivalent to a car trip of 2,500 km. (Remember: per second!)
  • Every day, 205 billion e-mails are sent. According to a calculation by the environmental agency Ademe, a company with 100 employees produces 13.6 tons of CO2 per year just by sending e-mails. This is equivalent to around 6 flights from Paris to New York and back.
  • Experts from the French think tank The Shift Project calculated the CO2 emissions generated by streaming online videos at 300 million tons of CO2 per year. That's equivalent to nearly one percent of global emissions. One-third of that is attributable to on-demand video services like Netflix, and another third to online pornography.

One thing becomes clear now: Sending messages on WhatsApp, swiping through Instagram stories and streaming on Netflix causes CO2 and thus contributes to global warming. But what can you do to reduce CO2 emissions while surfing the Internet?

How to be sustainable while being online

As an end user, you have a few options to reduce the CO2 emissions of your Internet consumption. We collected some tips that can help you do just that.

Spring cleaning your email inbox

A study by climate researchers at the consulting institute ICF International calculated that spam e-mails consume about 33 billion kilowatt hours of energy per year, which is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of 3.1 million cars per year. One spam message is therefore equivalent to 0.3 grams of CO2. It is therefore advisable to unsubscribe from unneeded newsletters and delete old e-mails. Put an end to unnecessary e-mail traffic and bursting inboxes!

If everyone deleted 11 emails every day, we could save about 91,000 tons of CO2 per year. That’s equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 125,000 people in Germany.

Support climate-neutral streaming services

Some streaming services are already one step ahead and broadcast climate neutral. Among them is ZENSPOTTING , a platform that streams online live sessions in a climate-neutral and mindful way. If you want to take a short break from your fast-paced everyday life, you can take part in live yoga, breathwork and journaling sessions. Due to ZENSPOTTING calming nature and their climate neutral streams, you do something good for yourself and the climate!

Use search engines that plant trees

If you use a search engine like Ecosia, for example, you plant trees with your search query and remove 2.2 lb of CO2 from the air. Ecosia's servers are also powered by renewable solar energy and trees are planted with biodiversity in mind . PS: This is not an ad, we just think Ecosia is great.

Rethink resolution for videos

Is the highest resolution necessary or can my device display it at all? If not, it is better to do downgrade the resolution of your streamed videos a bit. This protects the battery of your device, thus consumes less power.

Multitasking yes, but not while streaming

Getting ready, while a YouTube video is playing or cooking yourself a meal while watching your favourite movie on Netflix. Perhaps consider going back to listening to music. That way, you can use streaming services mindfully and enjoy movies and videos much more!

Conclusion

The emissions related to using the Internet are a good reminder that even small actions in everyday life can contribute to our carbon footprint. Being aware of this is the first step in the right direction.

We know that it is simply not possible to not use the Internet in times like these. After all, it also brings many advantages: It connects people and offers an easy way to share knowledge.

If you want to continue to feel good about surfing the Internet, you can calculate and reduce your own carbon footprint and then offset unavoidable emissions with TeamClimate. Internet usage is of course considered when calculating your carbon footprint . Remember: enjoying your favourite movie or an online live session with ZENSPOTTING feels even better climate neutral!

Quellen:
Statista (2021): Verteilung der energiebedingten CO2-Emissionen weltweit nach Sektor im Jahr 2018
Der Standard (2019): Wie klimaschädlich ist das Internet?
L. Stobbe, M. Proske, H. Zedel, R. Hintemann, J. Clausen, und S. Beucker (2015): Entwicklung des IKT-bedingten Strombedarfs in Deutschland
ZDFheute (2019): Internet produziert so viel CO2 wie Flugverkehr
Süddeutsche Zeitung (2020): Als Internetnutzer tragen wir unabsichtlich zur Umweltzerstörung bei
futurezone (2019): So klimaschädlich ist das Internet
fairlis (2019): CO2-Schleuder Internet – Tipps und Fakten zur CO2-Bilanz unserer liebsten Freizeitbeschäftigung
Informatik Aktuell (2016): Rechenzentren – Energiefresser oder Effizienzwunder?
Quarks (2019): So viel Energie verbraucht das Internet?
Carbon Connect (2017): Was bzw. wie viel ist eine Tonne CO2?

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