Want to reduce your digital carbon footprint? Here’s how

I love the internet. As a child of Generation X, I had to rely extensively on libraries and books for any research that I might want to do until fortuitously, the internet arrived and I was and still am able to find answers to all my questions of life, death and the universe, online. This has been a great thing, even though it has been accompanied by social media and our obsessive desire to leave none of our narcissistic tendencies overlooked.

The increase in our digital use during and post-pandemic has also meant that we have transferred many of our high carbon emitting activities to slightly lower ones. Using Zoom instead of our cars for meetings, flying less for conferences, reading our books online instead of contributing to forest depletion and excessive water use by reading paper backs, even sending emails instead of letters, all use less carbon.

What does a digital carbon footprint mean?

But even though there is less carbon being emitted when we surf the internet, post on social media and send emails, that is not to say that NO carbon is being emitted. From the manufacture, end-use and finally the end of the products life, all our electronic devices use energy in some form or the other. And this has an impact on Earth’s climate and environment, especially when the sources of energy are from fossil fuels. This impact is our digital carbon footprint. The extraction of material from the ground to make phones and laptops, furthercontributes to the degradation of ecosystems and the environment.

The digital carbon footprint is the amount of emissions released due to digital technology. Electricity is used to power our devices, and also to keep the internet running. Buildings are required to house the hardware, data from computer networks, cloud services and digital applications – all of which need energy. The IT sector already uses an estimated 7% of global electricity according to Greenpeace and this is projected to increase to 20% of all electricity produced in the future.

Digital technologies now contribute 5.5% of the world’s carbon emissions, likely to double by 2025. According to the Shift Project digital energy consumption rises by around 9% every year.

Then there is the impact of your own website, which, while not as humungous as other sources of carbon emissions, is still something to consider. Especially, as more and more of us spend more time on the internet for business and pleasure. Not only this, our collective thank your emails are adding to climate change by 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year! These are the emails you send when you just want to say thank you in response to another email.

How do we produce the digital carbon footprint?

Resource Mining

We need metals and mineral to manufacture our digital devices, and fibre optics cables. We have already started hearing about the environmental impact and carbon footprint of lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese and graphite; metals used to power batteries used in electric vehicles, and out digital instruments. There is also resource mining to make new fibre optics cable that are needed to connect us digitally. Extraction of these materials is not only harmful to ecosystems and biodiversity, it also contributes to climate change.

Device manufacture

It all starts with the manufacturing process – for our digital instruments and the cables we use – during which a lot of carbon is emitted. Even now, as we move towards using renewable energy, we have still not completely given up on using hydrocarbons. Till we do that the manufacturing processes of our digital devices will continue to contribute to climate change.

Data Centers, Cloud Storage and Consumer Data Analytics

The we have the buildings for the huge data centres we need to house servers for websites and cloud storage, all of which use a prodigious amount of energy. Data centres process, store, and communicate all of the data behind the digital services we use, from social media to scientific computing. According to certain estimates, the existing 500,000 or so data centres alone consume 1% of global energy demand. Over 400 of these data centres are hyperscale, often the size of villages, such as those used by Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft. Furthermore, global cloud computing and storage is becoming more and more popular, and according to Greenpeace, uses more energy than all of Germany.

With more and more businesses finding a home online, and most of us buying and selling from our digital devices, a consumer data analytics industry has burgeoned. This is the process of collecting and analyzing consumer data for advertising and even law enforcement surveillance that requires a large number of actors including companies, government agencies, data brokers, and people-searchers.

Companies like Facebook or Google, that allow you to use their websites for free are not actually free. They track your activities and use this to send you targeted advertisements. Others may actually sell your online activity or data to other advertisers. Such “ad-tracking” uses a lare amount of energy through the tools that are used, as well as for data storage.

Undersea Fibre optics

To connect the world digitally, requires a global network of undersea cables and currently we have 1.4 milliom kilometres of undersea cables according to TeleGeography, contributing to over 90% of digital communication and commerce. They require resources to be mined for their manufacture, and furthermore, they disturb ocean ecosystems as they are laid across the seabed. This adds up to the digital carbon footprint and environmental degradation.


Cryptocurrency, such as bitcoin and Ethereum, is the latest buzzword that many of us know without understanding what it really is. The proof of work required for cryptocurrency and the associated “mining” consume a large amount of energy. There are different estimations of how much energy the blockchain and mining cryptocurrency uses; some of them equating to energy consumption of a nation.

Internet and Device Users

And finally, there is us. Our use of computers, tablets and phones to access the internet all requires energy consumption (and this indirectly contributes to carbon emissions). According to Statista:As of January 2023, there were 5.16 billion internet users worldwide, which is 64.4 percent of the global population. Of this total, 4.76 billion, or 59.4 percent of the world’s population, were social media users.

Users account for 55% of the IT industry’s carbon footprint, while the manufacturing process accounts for the remaining 45%, according to Safetydetectives.

We upload and stream videos online, which uses more energy than any other online activity. Video accounts for 60% of the world’s internet traffic, while streaming produces 300 million metric tons of CO2 each year. In fact just Netflix accounts for 15% of global internet traffic, using 451,000 megawatt-hours of energy per year! Social media videos (such as on TikTok) and YouTube videos also account for 15% video streaming traffic together. In fact, video accounted for 66% of total internet volume in 2022.

Which companies have the largest footprint?

According to estimates by Safetydetectives, the companies with the largest digital carbon footprints are the usual suspects:

  • Amazon produces 159 billion g/159,000 MT of global carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) daily,
  • Netflix produces 60 billion g/60,000 MT of CO2e daily,
  • Twitter produces 100 million g of CO2e daily,
  • Google produces 700 million g of CO2e daily (although the company has been carbon neutral since 2007),
  • Facebook produces 1.3 billion g of CO2e daily,
  • YouTube produces 6 billion g of CO2e daily.
How to reduce our digital carbon footprint?

Many of these big online companies have committed to the Net Zero goal, formulated as part of the UN 2015 agreement on climate, known as the Paris Agreement. This Agreement aims to reach global carbon neutrality by 2050, which would require reducing our dependence on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, as well as removing already emitted carbon from the atmosphere.

To achieve this the biggest digital companies have pledged to the Net Zero goal and taken steps to achieve it:

  • Google has been carbon neutral since 2007;
  • Apple uses 100% renewable energy and has committed to reach Net Zero for its supply chain and products by 2030;
  • Microsoft has pledged to be carbon negative by 2030 and offset historical carbon emissions by 2050;
  • Amazon has a goal of reaching Net Zero by 2040 and wants to use 100% renewable energy by 2025, it has also pledged to buy more electric delivery vehicles;
  • Facebook aims to reach Net Zero by 2030; and
  • Netflix also aims to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 and had the aim to reach Net Zero by 2022 (not clear if this happened). It also aims to invest in regenerating natural ecosystems.

Furthermore, almost 1,400 individuals and companies (including Google) have signed the Sustainable Web Manifesto since 2019, committing themselves to create a greener and sustainable internet.

What can you do?

Decreasing electricity use and using renewable energy is step one. Everything we do when using the internet, from social media, music, emails, video streaming and even ecommerce use electricity, which is not always renewable.

So, first of all we should decrease how much we are online and decrease how much we use the web. According to Website Carbon the average website produces 1.76g of CO2e per page view, which means that a site with 50,000 page views per month emits 1,056kg of CO2e annually. This is just the average. The more complex a website is, the more energy it needs to function. Website Carbon also tells us that each time you visit google.com, 0.09 g of CO2e is released into the atmosphere. This is admittedly a lot less than many of our other activities, but as more and more users are added to the global digital community, it will add up. In the end it is not a bad idea to curtail how much time we spend online – not only is it good for the planet but also for our mental health.

Another step we can take is to switch over to a more climate friendly energy supplier. This however is easier to do in developed countries – developing country citizens do not have a lot of choice in energy suppliers.

For your own website, use a hosting company that uses green energy. Many are moving in this direction and there are more choices out there.

There are also ways to make the webpage lighter because your website also contributes to climate change. Images are perhaps the largest contributors to the weight of the website, so moving from JPEG and PNG to lighter formats such as SVG is one way of decreasing that size. Optimizing tools are also available that help you to reduce your image size and other aspects of the website – and many of these are free.

Make your video streaming climate friendly: shut off open tabs, turn off auto play, avoid using video when you can do with audio. Decreasing video streaming is also important, as video streaming uses prodigious amounts of energy. In fact, 80% of all data that is transferred through the internet is video data.

Power down your computer when away for longer periods instead of leaving it in sleep mode.

Close your browser when it is not being used, reduce the number of open tabs, and use bookmarks to jump directly to your desired page.

Dim your monitor: If possible, from 100% to 70% and use dark mode whenever you can.

Be conscious of vampire power: Plugged in but powered down devices/ devices on standby mode, which consume ¼ of residential      energy

Use a mobile for quick searches instead of your laptop because a smaller screen requires less electricity to power the display.

Change your email habits: Unsubscribe from unused newsletters, limit reply all, and refrain from sending unnecessary emails.

Turn of trackers and surveillance, use ad blockers and turn off location tracking if you do not need it.

We have established that cloud services use a lot of energy, so reduce the amount of data you have on the cloud by cleaning it up. It is also a good idea to invest in an external hard-drive for all of your back up data instead of the cloud. If you need to use the cloud use Google, which consumes only around 0.013% of global energy because Google data centers are very efficient and use 50% less energy than typical data centers.

Use WiFi instead of mobile data whenever possible because WiFi connections are more efficient and infact, mobile networks are twice as energy-intensive. This will save energy and your hard-earned cash.

Remove unused apps from your devices and download some of the increasing number of green apps that are being developed for all kinds of activities and services, such as green food apps, travel apps and recylcing apps.

Do not be in a hurry to change IT equipment and try to get equipment repaired instead of throwing it away.

The internet is now part of our lives and there is no going back. Overall, our digital carbon footprint is much less than air travel and other activities like reading (physical books use a lot of energy and water). We need the internet for everything we do and thankfully it still consumes a lot less energy and contributes less to carbon emissions. We just need to keep in mind that it does use energy and as more and more of us start living our lives online and use the digital world for most things, energy use and emissions will only increase. We must keep this in mind and work towards ensuring that our digital carbon footprint is small.

Scaling the Peaks l Mountain Ecosystems Based Adaptation

Article on Mountain EbA

The climate crisis is brought into stark reality by the floods, droughts, and extreme weather that the world is encountering on a regular basis. We can utilize technology to adapt to these changes, but we can also use nature. This is where the Ecosystem Approach comes in. Humans have and continue to rely on ecosystems and the services they offer. Ecosystem based Adaptation (EbA)2 can help us adapt to climate change by changing our behaviour, how we live, how we manage our food and how we maintain our health systems.

Read more here.

Do you know about vampire devices?


These are your household electronic devices that leach power even when they are not in use. A majority of us leave these devices on standby. Switching off these ‘vampire devices’ could save a UK household £147 every year on electricity bills.

Here is the study mentioned in the video

What the IPCC’s latest climate change report says in – figures

What does the latest UN climate change report, published by the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Monday April 5, 2022, say? The detailed report has been summarised by the IPCC into figures that give a clear snapshot of where are, where we want to going and how we can get there.

In April 2021, the warming had already reached 419.28 parts per million (ppm). On May 5, 2022 it was 419.68 ppm according to co2.earth.

While anthropogenic emissions are still increasing  (we had already reached 1.2C in April 2021 from pre- industrial time and warming has increases 1.1C since 1850 and 1900), their growth rate was slower between 2010 and 2019 than between 2000 and 2009. However, in order to limit climate change to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels (as agreed in the Paris Agreement), greenhouse gas emissions need to reach their highest peak before 2025. And by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 43%, according to the report. Unfortunately, that is not where we are headed currently. In fact, according to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres “Current climate pledges would mean a 14% increase in emissions, and most major emitters are not taking the steps needed to fulfill even these inadequate promises.”

Chart depicting greenhouse gas emissions. IPCC 2022
Anthropogenic emissions greenhouse gas emissions over the last few decades. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


Emissions have increased in every region but are distributed unevenly both in present day and as cummulative emissions since 1850s, highlighted in the chart below. They have mostly come from developed countries as a result of unsustainable energy and land use. The least developed and developing countries are the lowest contributers to climate change but they will be impacted the most, especially island nations that are already starting to face sea level rise.

“Climate change is the result of more than a century of unsustainable energy and land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea in a written statement published with the report. “This report shows how taking action now can move us towards a fairer, more sustainable world.”

Regional green house gas emissions. Courtesy Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Regional green house gas emissions. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


There is some good news. The cost of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar have progressively dropped due to increased efforts in new development and scaling up. Renewables are already far cheaper than other sources, as the chart below indicates – cost of solar energy has decreased by about 85% and wind has reduced by 50% over the last decade.


Cost of renewable energy sources and adoption. Courtesy Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Cost of renewable energy sources and their adoption. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


However, current climate action is still insufficient and projected global GHG emissions from countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) announced prior to COP 26 would make it likely that warming will exceed 1.5C, and furthermore, make it harder to limit it to below 2C after 2030, as indicated in the chart below.


Projected greenhouse gas emissions for various policy approaches. Courtesy Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Projected greenhouse gas emissions for various policy approaches. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


Different scenarios show that more aggressive actions need to be undertaken to decrease warming as can be seen in the chart below, which indicates 8 response scenarios. The light blue (C1) is the most aggressive and will result in the least warming, while the red (C8) is less aggressive and will lead to more warming.

Projected global mean warming of 8 response scenarios. Courtesy Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Projected global mean warming of 8 response scenarios. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


Mitigation pathways that limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius will require immediate action. The chart below shows modelled pathways that limit warming to 1.5C and 2C. This would need deep, rapid and sustained emission reductions.
The chart shows greenhouse gas (GHG), carbon dioxide (CO2) methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions under various scenarios. The IPCC calls these illustrative mitigation emissions pathways (IMPs), where the red shows the pathway if current policies are continued, while the blue indicates pathways if more aggressive policies that limit global warming to 1.5°C are implemented.
“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee.  “I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries. There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective.  If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation.”
“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F),” Co-Chair Jim Skea added. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”


Mitigation pathways that limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius will require immediate action. Courtesy Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Mitigation pathways that limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius will require immediate action. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


The following chart shows the sectors where emissions come from, with mitigation pathways that can get us to net zero.

According to the press release, “Limiting global warming will require major transitions in the energy sector. This will involve a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and use of alternative fuels (such as hydrogen). Cities and other urban areas also offer significant opportunities for emissions reductions.  These can be achieved through lower energy consumption (such as by creating compact, walkable cities), electrification of transport in combination with low-emission energy sources, and enhanced carbon uptake and storage using nature. There are options for established, rapidly growing and new cities.”

“Reducing emissions in industry will involve using materials more efficiently, reusing and recycling products and minimising waste. For basic materials, including steel, building materials and chemicals, low- to zero-greenhouse gas production processes are at their pilot to near-commercial stage. This sector accounts for about a quarter of global emissions. Achieving net zero will be challenging and will require new production processes, low and zero emissions electricity, hydrogen, and, where necessary, carbon capture and storage. Agriculture, forestry, and other land use can provide large-scale emissions reductions and also remove and store carbon dioxide at scale. However, land cannot compensate for delayed emissions reductions in other sectors. Response options can benefit biodiversity, help us adapt to climate change, and secure livelihoods, food and water, and wood supplies,” the press release adds.

“The global temperature will stabilise when carbon dioxide emissions reach net zero. For 1.5°C (2.7°F), this means achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2050s; for 2°C (3.6°F), it is in the early 2070s,” concludes the press release.


Contributions of carbon dioxide by sector for several mitigation strategies, some of which include direct air carbon capture. Courtesy Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Contributions of carbon dioxide by sector for several mitigation strategies, some of which include direct air carbon capture. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


The chart below provides an overview of mitigation options and technologies, as well as their estimated ranges of costs and potential in 2030. There are many options available now in all sectors that help reduce net emissions. There are also synergies and trade-offs between sectoral and system mitigation options and the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

According to the written statement,”Accelerated and equitable climate action in mitigating and adapting to climate change impacts is critical to sustainable development. Some response options can absorb and store carbon and, at the same time, help communities limit the impacts associated with climate change. For example, in cities, networks of parks and open spaces, wetlands and urban agriculture can reduce flood risk and reduce heat-island effects. Mitigation in industry can reduce environmental impacts and increase employment and business opportunities. Electrification with renewables and shifts in public transport can enhance health, employment, and equity”.


Overview of climate mitigation options and their estimated ranges of costs and potentials in 2030 Courtesy Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Overview of climate mitigation options and their estimated ranges of costs and potentials in 2030. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


Synergies and trade-offs between mitigation options and Sustainable Development Goals. Credit: IPCC 2022
Synergies and trade-offs between mitigation options and Sustainable Development Goals. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


What can we, the people, do? Ultimately, our actions can lower demand for energy intensive, carbon emitting technologies and products. Demand-side mitigation has huge potential and can be achieved through changes in three main areas: socio-cultural factors, infrastructure design and use, and end-use technology adoption by 2050.

“Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behavior can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla, in the written statement. “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”

Buildings will need to become more efficient. “We see examples of zero energy or zero-carbon buildings in almost all climates,” said Skea. “Action in this decade is critical to capture the mitigation potential of buildings.”

The potential impact to climate change mitigation impacts of changing the demand for food, electricity and manufactured products by infrastructure and behavioral adaptations. Courtesy Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The potential impact to climate change mitigation impacts of changing the demand for food, electricity and manufactured products by infrastructure and behavioral adaptations. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The Amazon is Now Emitting More Greenhouse Gases Than it is Absorbing l Blogpost

The Amazon is Earth’s largest tropical rainforest with its own self-sustainaing regional climate and hydrological system. It contains a diversity of forests – from montane to mangroves – across a range of distinct soils and substrates, supported by a biogeochemically-diverse riverine network that drives extensive seasonal rainfall. It has been clear for a while that this whole system is under pressure. Unsustainable developing practices – including deforestation for mining, agriculture and dairy farming, as well as illegal logging activities – have all brought it to an ecological tipping point.

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