Lockdown & Sustainability

24th April 2020

The world is upside down and it seems like we will all be under a lockdown for much longer than we initially thought. Many people choose to kill time by binge-watching Tiger King (Is he for real!?) and many other series, movies and documentaries.

You may have seen in the news that both Netflix and YouTube needed to reduce streaming quality to help the data centres cope with the increased demand.

Back in February, I wrote an article about Digital Sustainability. This term might be new to some you so let me catch you up. Using the internet, like almost anything else, has a carbon footprint. Quite a big one, actually. The Internet is responsible for 2-3% of the global emissions. That’s about the same as the global aviation industry.

Lowering streaming quality is a big deal from the sustainability perspective as it can reduce data consumption by 25%. Less data consumption means less energy used. And less energy means less carbon emissions.

Earlier this year, BBC published two short videos that explain digital sustainability. The second video ‘Can The Web Go Green?’ also features my friends from Wholegrain Digital and The Positive Internet Company. If you have 5 minutes, these are well worth your time.

So how can you stay digitally sustainable during the pandemic?

Here are 10 tips to get you started

  1. Green searching - Google confirmed that every search emits approximately 0.2 grams of CO2. That may not sound like a lot but it is estimated that Google performs 3.5 billion searches per day (1.2 trillion searches per year). So if you do the math, that's 700 tonnes of CO2 every single day just from Google searches. If you’re browsing just for fun, consider using Ecosia, a search engine that uses the ad revenue from your searches to plant trees where they are needed the most.
  2. Avoid video autoplay - When you scroll through posts on social media, you may be downloading video content (autoplay) even for videos that you're not interested in. That's basically a digital waste. Try to change settings on your social media channels and only watch videos you're really interested in.
  3. Download your favourite music albums instead of streaming them - Streaming an album over the internet more than 27 times will likely use more energy than it takes to produce and manufacture a CD! Download your favourite tunes to your phone so that you can use your phone memory instead of streaming the data over and over again.
  4. Switch to dark mode on your devices - Keeping your screens bright takes more energy than using dark mode. If your screens are bright, you are effectively lighting up every single pixel on your screen. If you instead switch to dark mode, some of those pixels will be basically switched off. It's a very simple way to save energy and also to relax your eyes.
  5. Download files & videos instead of streaming them - Instead of streaming videos, audiobooks and podcasts using data, download them using WiFi. Streaming mobile data takes more energy (you can see that on your phone battery) so downloading files using WiFi before you leave your home is more energy-efficient and your phone battery will last longer.
  6. Avoid unnecessary emails and save 1 gram of CO2 - Mike Berners-Lee collaborated with OVO Energy on a research called 'Think Before You Thank' that calculated carbon footprint of unnecessary emails, i.e. emails with up to 4 words. They estimated that each unnecessary email produces 1 gram of CO2. This may not sound like a lot but think how many emails each of us sends out in a day. The research shows that if every person in the UK sent just one less 'thank you' email a day for an entire year, collectively we would save 16,433 tonnes of CO2 - the equivalent of 81,152 flights to Madrid or taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road!
  7. Avoid REPLY ALL - We all try to keep our team members posted on the progress of our projects. Sometimes, we include them in an email because we think that it may be useful for them to know at some point in the future. But what happens is that we all end up with hundreds of emails in our inboxes that we don't have to do anything about. We often just skim through them quickly or don't bother opening them at all. We already talked about the carbon footprint of an unnecessary email (approx. 1 gram of CO2). However, the amount of CO2 saved per every recipient depends on the size of the email and its attachments, which could range anywhere between 1g (unnecessary email) and 50g (email with large attachments) of CO2. So next time you send an email out, try to include only those people who need to act on it.
  8. Use links over attachments - Instead of attaching large files to your emails, opt for linking to them in the email text to where they are stored online or in the cloud.
  9. Unsubscribe from unwanted emails - We cannot control if anyone sends us spam emails, but we can remove ourselves from mailing lists that we no longer want to be a part of. Many companies use the 'spray and pray' method, i.e. sending their emails to thousands of recipients and hoping that at least 10% of them will open it. That's not a great method, both from marketing and from the sustainability point of view. Instead, all companies should communicate with people who are really interested in their content. It will create a better customer experience and a better long-term relationship between the company and the client.
  10. Switch to a green energy provider - This is the single best way to reduce the carbon footprint of a household (not just the digital footprint). If we use green energy to power our devices and our browsing, we are significantly reducing the carbon footprint of our day-to-day activities.

I hope you find these tips useful.

If you'd like to learn more about digital sustainability and the impact of the internet on climate change, feel free to reach out. Perhaps I could deliver a Lunch&Learn presentation to your team and help you include digital sustainability in your sustainability strategy.

Together, we can make the internet green.

So let's get working.