Over the last few years, more and more people began taking steps towards sustainability. Whether these steps are macro or micro, they’re usually geared toward conscious consumerism. Consuming organic produce, upcycled products, long-lasting clothes, you name it. What we consume, however, doesn’t end with what’s tangible. There’s more to consider than the physical products we purchase.
Everyday we’re streaming, surfing, downloading, and uploading. We’ve grown so accustomed to The Cloud as more of our world shifts to digital. But have you ever thought about how much energy that requires? Before we all adapted to the WFH setup, we’d already been generating about a zettabyte of data per year. That’s around 500 quintillion photos (aka too many zeroes to count)! As society’s digital infrastructure grows, so does the energy required to maintain it.
In 2010, Greenpeace launched Clicking Clean - a project dedicated to evaluating the internet’s energy footprint. According to their 2017 report, 7% of global electrical consumption stems from the IT sector alone. They had even predicted internet traffic to increase threefold by 2020. It’s safe to say we may have proved this right - or even surpassed the predictions. Now that we’re well into the “terrible twos” of this pandemic, we’ve become even more dependent on the internet. In Greenpeace’s words, “the internet serves as the central nervous system of the modern global economy.” It goes to show that going ~paperless~ isn’t the only part of consuming less. It’s time to take conscious consumerism to another level.
So how does one go about shrinking their digital footprint? Learning about IT companies would be a good place to start. Clicking Clean has been keeping them accountable by tracking their individual energy demand. It’s an impressive list with comprehensive statistics. Here’s a glance at the scorecards of some of the most popular companies:
The images above are not inclusive of all categories and criteria used by Greenpeace. To see more, download the full 2017 Clicking Clean report here.
Having seen the facts, it’s a little easier to decipher which companies are headed in the right direction. At the same time, we know who’s raising one too many red flags. In the same way you’d double check the ethics of a brand, it’s crucial to take notice of their energy consumption too. It always pays off to advocate for transparency.
If you’re looking for more ways to cut down those emissions, you can start small by:
1. Doing a digital declutter
Think of it as KonMari-ing your data. Don’t hoard 10 year old files. Mind your spotify downloads. Unsubscribe from the newsletters that don’t spark joy! You’ll take a load off your mind while minimizing emissions. It may take some time, but you’ll be hitting two birds with one stone.
2. Minding your video streaming and downloading
In a single action, both streaming and downloading generally use the same amount of data. Streaming simply doesn’t save a copy to your device. Having said that, opening a downloaded file no longer uses mobile data. However, each time you stream, you’re loading the information over and over. It’s something to consider before you do another binge or movie marathon. Maybe reserve Netflix for the weekend. Or download that movie if you’re likely to watch it again.
3. Shutting down > Putting to sleep
It makes a difference to shut down your computer versus putting it to sleep. It’s still using energy while on standby. Around 16.5-33 W/hr to be exact. If you’re going to be away from your laptop or PC for more than an hour, consider turning it off instead.
Anything that’s plugged in is still consuming power - even if you’ve turned it off. In fact, even a charger cable will be drawing out energy whether it’s connected to something or not. Stash those cables when not in use. Unplug that fan when you leave the room. A good tip would be to avoid charging overnight too.
5. Choosing an eco-conscious cloud
Now that you know some providers are greener than others, it’s easier to choose who stores your data. For example, in the scorecards above both Apple and Google got an A from Greenpeace, but with slight differences in individual criteria. Apple has a higher clean energy index, but only a B for Advocacy. Meanwhile, Google has a lower clean energy index and an A in Advocacy. These are all factors that can help you make a decision aligned with your own principles. There isn’t a one size fits all choice. It’s just a matter of seeking out the ones with well-rounded results. Prioritize those who can turn their words into concrete actions.
You might be thinking - why does the responsibility always fall on the consumer? Why must we adjust for a company’s unsustainable choices? Shouldn’t they have considered their actions beforehand? All valid points. The truth is these people in power should be more careful. However, in reality it’s a two way street. Climate action requires both systemic change from big corporations and conscious choices from us consumers. Don’t underestimate your ability to demand action. Learning about your digital footprint could be the next best way to do that. We can’t wait for the internet to go carbon neutral on its own. Do your research, share it with your friends, and hold companies accountable. Every small action makes an impact when done for the collective good.