Even the web pollutes: how to “navigate” in a sustainable way

Currently, the number of Internet users worldwide stands at 5.16 billion, corresponding approximately to 64.4% of the total world population. Statistics indicate that the amount of global internet users increased by 1.9% during the last 12 months, although there are indications that data reporting is delayed, suggesting that real growth could be higher than this percentage indicates. This information is taken from the 2023 social report, shared by “We Are Social”, which highlights that, despite spending less time online than the previous year, more time is spent on social media. Currently, there are 4.76 billion social media users worldwide, representing just under 60% of the total global population.

The environmental impact of digital

Digital is responsible for a significant environmental impact due to high CO2 emissions deriving from fossil fuels used to power servers, network infrastructures, data center cooling systems and user devices. These numbers have considerable environmental significance. Global Internet use accounts for approximately 3.7% of global CO2 emissions, a figure equivalent to aviation emissions. The carbon footprint of the internet is mainly due to online streaming and downloading, online searches, cloud storage and emailing.

Social media also contributes significantly: if a user spends five minutes a day on 10 social media platforms, this would imply an annuality of 20 kg of CO2 emissions. Furthermore, each social platform has its own emissions: for example, Instagram produces 1.05 kg of CO2 per minute, while TikTok reaches 2.3 kg per minute. Not only electricity, but also inefficient ways of building websites contribute to the environmental impact.

Practical advice for responsible use of bandwidth

Although each gigaband consumes 0.06 kWh, there are concrete suggestions we can follow to preserve the environment. Here are some of them:

  • Use of low energy consumption devices:
    The first step to reducing the environmental impact of online activities is to use energy-efficient devices. Choose computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones that consume less energy. These devices are usually marked with energy efficiency labels, such as the Energy Star. Also, be sure to turn off or put devices to sleep when not in use to further reduce power consumption.
  • Choosing a green hosting provider:
    When creating a website or blog, try to use a green hosting provider. There are companies that employ renewable energy sources to power their servers, thus reducing the environmental impact of web hosting. Remember that every time you visit a website, you request data from servers that require energy to function. By opting for a green hosting provider, you can help reduce the overall impact of your internet access.
  • Reducing the size of files shared online:
    When sharing files on the Internet, such as photos, videos or documents, try to reduce their size. Large files require more time and resources to upload and download, thus increasing the environmental impact. Use compressed file formats or reduce the resolution of images without compromising their quality. Also, consider using cloud storage services for sharing files rather than sending them as email attachments, as cloud services usually optimize resource usage.
  • Turn off push notifications and manual sync:
    Push notifications from online applications and services can be very convenient, but they require constant interaction between servers and devices, consuming energy. Reduce energy consumption by turning off push notifications and manually synchronizing your emails, chats and other online applications. This way, you can decide when to update your data online, thus reducing your environmental impact.
  • Limiting Streaming Content:
    Streaming video and music has become one of the main activities of Internet users, but it requires a lot of energy. Reduce your carbon footprint by limiting the amount of content you stream. For example, avoid leaving videos or music playing in the background when you’re not actually watching or listening to them. Also, consider downloading content in advance rather than live streaming whenever possible to reduce overall power consumption.

Small steps for a big environmental impact

Surfing the Internet in a more sustainable way is a goal we can all pursue. By using energy efficient devices, choosing green hosting providers, reducing the size of shared files, turning off push notifications, limiting content streaming, and adopting other conscious practices, we can reduce our environmental impact when we use the Internet. Every little effort counts and helps preserve our planet for future generations.

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