The term “carbon footprint” can be controversial, as it tends to place excessive responsibility on individuals, rather than focusing on the governments and corporations that are primarily accountable for our current ecological crisis. However, it is still essential for individuals to minimize their personal energy consumption, even if it’s just to deprive fossil fuel corporations of the funds they rely on to perpetuate their environmentally destructive practices and climate disinformation campaigns.
One approach to achieve this is by decluttering your digital existence. Files do not exist as ethereal entities suspended in the air, simply waiting for us to summon them. Nor do they resemble leisurely streaming rivers of on-demand videos. Instead, our digital debris congests global data centers and data transmission networks—vast hubs of supercomputers that together consume 3% of worldwide electricity and generate 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
As internet usage expands and energy consumption skyrockets, even minor modifications in our digital
behaviors could collectively lead to a significant decrease in global carbon emissions. The following easy and practical suggestions can help you reduce your digital carbon footprint while simultaneously lowering your energy expenses.
Clean Out Your Inbox
Each unopened spam email in your inbox is estimated to account for approximately 0.3 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Simple text-based emails contribute an additional 4 grams of CO2e, and sizable attachments can add a further 50 CO2e. Although email usage requires only 1.7% of the energy needed to deliver a traditional paper letter, the carbon emissions still accumulate to around 136 kilograms of CO2e per person annually. This is comparable to driving 322 kilometers in a gasoline-powered vehicle.
To minimize digital clutter, delete unnecessary emails and only subscribe to the most essential senders. A 2019 study conducted by British energy company OVO revealed that people in the UK send more than 64 million redundant emails every day. If adults in the UK were to send one less email daily, it would save over 16,433 metric tons of carbon per year—the equivalent of removing 33,343 diesel cars from the roads.
Reduce Your Brightness
A Harvard study suggests that decreasing your monitor’s brightness from 100% to 70% can lead to a reduction in overall energy consumption by up to 20%. As an added advantage, dimming the brightness also alleviates eye strain, a prevalent issue among office workers.
Use Tracking Protection
If the fact that websites sell your data to third parties doesn’t sufficiently motivate you to utilize enhanced tracking protection, take into account that data tracking consumes enormous amounts of energy and releases tons of carbon emissions into the environment. Browsers like Firefox, DuckDuckGo, and Brave safeguard your privacy while disabling energy-intensive cookies.
Ecosia takes it a step further. Besides protecting your personal information, the search engine uses 100% of its profits to combat climate change, allocating 80% of those profits to tree planting initiatives. According to Ecosia’s own estimations, each search helps remove 0.5 kilograms of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Slow Down with Online Shopping
During the COVID-19 pandemic, digital sales soared to unprecedented heights, intensifying an already existing online shopping issue. Platforms such as Amazon and Alibaba require vast amounts of energy to power their servers, and last-mile shipping emissions are projected to increase by 30% by 2030. This increase may result in traffic congestion that could add up to 11 minutes to the average commute. Even more concerning, one in three online purchases is returned, leading to two billion kilograms of perfectly usable products ending up in landfills each year in the United States alone.
Shipping is an inherently carbon-intensive sector, particularly in countries that depend on truck freight instead of long-haul trains. Cutting back on our online shopping habits, even marginally, would have a significant impact and help sustain local brick-and-mortar businesses.
Buy Crypto with Care
Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum, besides being highly volatile, consume more energy than numerous countries. A single bitcoin transaction generates emissions equivalent to 330,000 credit card transactions. To counterbalance bitcoin’s estimated 57 million tons of annual CO2 emissions, it would be necessary to plant 300 million trees.
Although some cryptocurrencies, like ethereum, claim they will transition to a more sustainable “proof-of-stake” model, these emission reductions have not yet materialized. Considering that the time frame to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is rapidly diminishing, it may be wise to avoid crypto while it continues to consume a significant portion of our remaining carbon budget.
Steer Clear of E-Waste
Every item, ranging from light bulbs and laptops to microwaves, requires energy for production and can release harmful chemicals into the environment if disposed of improperly. According to the UN E-waste Monitor, each individual generates an average of 7.3 kilograms of e-waste annually, with affluent nations such as the United States and China being the top contributors.
Ideally, one should refrain from purchasing electronics altogether. If this is not feasible, consider repairing an old device using a service like iFixit or acquiring a refurbished item from an online retailer like Back Market. When a device has reached the end of its lifespan, think about donating or recycling it through a business or your local municipal waste service.
If you own a website, think about hosting it with a company like GreenGeeks, which offsets its power consumption with 300% renewable energy and plants a tree for each new account. Consequently, GreenGeeks’ websites effectively have a negative carbon footprint.
For the increasing number of people working from home, consider setting up rooftop solar panels or a home wind generator. If you’re renting or unable to afford a new installation, a community solar garden could be an ideal solution. Search for community solar providers in your area to reduce your electricity expenses and make your home office more eco-friendly.
Power Down and Go Outside
The most effective way to minimize your digital carbon footprint is to disconnect your devices and engage in more traditional activities such as reading a book, taking a walk, or cultivating a garden. Not only does unplugging help reduce phantom loads, but it also offers a range of mental, social, and physical benefits.
Keep in mind that individuals are not the main drivers of climate change; however, collective action can conserve energy, strengthen communities, and lay the foundation for a sustainable future. The next time you feel the urge to check social media, resist it and opt for a timeless, carbon-neutral hobby instead.