Online Carbon Footprint: How to limit internet pollution

Many people are unaware of their online carbon footprint and the internet pollution caused by their digital habits. The carbon footprint of the internet and the systems supporting it is estimated to account for about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions. In comparison, air travel is thought to account for around 2%. 

Find out about internet pollution and how to lower your online carbon footprint: 

What is internet pollution?

Internet pollution is the environmental damage caused by the powering and cooling down of data centres; the in-real-life technology that allows online content to be collected, processed and stored. It also comes from the manufacture, transportation and electricity use of these facilities and other technology involved in the process.

This technology is never switched off so it tends to get very hot, which could cause a meltdown without intervention. Most internet pollution is generated by the cooling systems that stop data centres and servers from overheating. 


Online carbon footprint in numbers:

  • 4g is the amount of CO2 emitted from sending an email 
  • 50g is the amount of CO2 emitted from sending an email with a large attachment 
  • 60% is the amount of the world’s internet traffic which comes from watching videos 
  • 0.2g is how much equivalent CO2 one Google search emits 
  • 17% is the amount of clean energy Netflix uses to power their operations (scoring a D from Greenpeace’s Click Clean initiative).

What is your online carbon footprint?

The emissions caused by the production, use and data transfer of digital devices are summarised as a digital or online carbon footprint. Your individual online carbon footprint comes from the internet pollution generated by your online activities. This can be difficult to calculate accurately, so it’s probably easier to remember that every online action has an impact on the planet. You don’t have to go off the grid to make a difference, but try to limit your internet pollution where possible. 

How to reduce your online carbon footprint: 

There are a number of easy ways to reduce the internet pollution associated with your online carbon footprint:

  1. Use a tablet or smartphone instead of a laptop or computer.
  2. Unsubscribe from email newsletters you’re not reading.
  3. Use the Ecosia search engine to plant trees while you search online.
  4. Use your devices for as long as possible before upgrading. Buy second-hand tech.
  5. Listen to podcasts and music instead of streaming videos for background noise.
  6. Choose a green cloud provider that runs on renewable energy. 
  7. Delete excess photos, videos and documents stored in the cloud.
  8. Spend less time online and do more IRL, screen-free activities! 

What are you waiting for? Take an eco action step by unsubscribing from an irrelevant email list and download the Ecosia app right now!