Dispatches - Is Your Online Habit Killing the Planet?

Sophie Morgan investigates the carbon footprint of the tech industry, as she discovers some shocking truths about the hidden cost of our online habits

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An interesting investigation in the carbon footprint of the tech industry.

It was exciting and encouraging to see a documentary of this topic on such a prime time slot on Channel4. It's not a very well known subject so important milestone to see it. Bringing light and education to a mainstream audience is an important first step of reducing website carbon emissions. And that of the internet.

Even for me who knows this topic well, hearing some of the problems and stats was also a sobering reminder there is lots to do. With much more of our lives being online than ever before and how quickly it can rise:

Global 40% increase in internet traffic between Feb - April 2020

We can do lots to improve it too and how education plays a key part of understanding these issues, so we can find solutions.

The Cloud

I thought Sophie Morgan did a brilliant job describing the intangible parts of the internet, and key facts so they were easily digestible for people of all ages and backgrounds.

When visiting Soverign data centers, Sophie broke down what the cloud is, and how our data is stored and transferred to and from data centers and the energy needed to power them:

1 rack of servers requires about 50 kettles boiling continuously though-out the day.

Highlighting where this electricity comes from. How these data centers need a constant supply of electricity. And how not all this electricity is from renewable sources. Most of the time it comes from the grid, which in the UK is powered by less that 50% renewables.

And as our needs for data storage soars with every photo we share online. So does the impact of internet rise.

Sharing photos on Instagram

There were some great new facts that I hadn't heard before. My favourite was from Dr Rabih Bashroush who is the Director of the Enterprise Computing Research Group at the University of East London, he said:

An average Instagram post by footballer Cristiano Ronaldo uses as much energy as 10 houses do in a year.

Breaking this down he explains how as Cristiano Ronaldo shares this images, it's sent to his mind-boggling 242 million users, transferred through the wires and on to their devices. Sharing one post consumes around 36 mega watts of electricity.

Sophie also showed how tech companies weren't very transparent with their data usage and what actions they were taking to reduce their carbon footprints. How terms we use can be misleading and confusing.

At one part Sophie asked a volunteer John (who had been tracking his internet usage):

John streams YouTube in his car on his way to work to listen to music. If John streamed just the audio, so, say like using an app like Spotify or Apple Music, how much energy, percentage-wise, would he save?

The answer is 90%.

You'd save the equivalent emissions per year of a 175 mile car trip.

Top tips to reduce your internet carbon emissions

When Sophie asked the professors for some tips on how people can improve there internet carbon emissions they said:

  1. Don't stream over 3G, 4G or 5G at home.
  2. Take a photo at the correct resolutions, you probably don't need a 100mb photo.
  3. Use the internet less, if you can. Nothing more efficient than turning things off.

How EcoPing can help

EcoPing provides helpful reports and tools to reduce personal and companies website carbon emissions. We track your website/s over time so you can improve your impact on the planet.

We also give clear breakdowns of all the resources that make up your website. Giving a better idea of the energy used to make that website, rather than traditional methods of checking for green hosting credentials (A point Sophie raised, showing how less than 50% of the UK runs off of renewables).

On top of this we have the world's first CDN powered on renewables, the perfect place to store all of your images and reduce your carbon footprint.

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