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6 ways to reduce your digital carbon footprint

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By now, you’re probably paying attention to how what you eat and what you travel by affects the climate through their carbon footprint. To help the planet fight the climate crisis, you can also change your on-line habits to become more digitally green. As always, we may take these actions individually, as well as by simply demanding more from the companies that provide us with equipment and services. Here are some tips for turning the Internet into a little bit more of a planet-friendly place on a daily basis.

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1. Extend the life of your equipment

Broken digital equipment is an extremely harmful tangible asset. It is estimated that merely 20 percent of materials from smartphones can be recovered and recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, very often in the world’ poorest regions, where attempts to store and recover raw materials from electro-waste lead to air and soil pollution. That is why it is so important to be both an informed buyer of the equipment we really need and to extend its life. Before you recycle your smartphone, you should try to resuscitate it: repair it or find it a new home.

It is not as difficult as it seems

Looking for more durable devices with long warranty periods or easy to repair is becoming easier and easier. Thanks to such websites as ifixit  we do know how easy it is to repair most popular laptops, smartphones or handsets. Plus, you needn’t worry about repairs. Pursuant to the “right to repair” introduced in the European Union since 2021, manufacturers of household appliances and consumer electronics must ensure the availability of spare parts for 7 to 10 years after the end of their production and the placing of the last batch on the market.  

When you don’t need a particular piece of equipment very often, consider borrowing it (preferably from a friend) to avoid buying a new one and eventually generating electro-waste in the future.

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2. Use video with moderation

Streaming and video services account for the largest share of the environmental cost of using the on-line environment. The figure is already estimated to be 300 million tons of CO2 emission per year and the number is growing. On the one hand, you can reduce your footprint by watching videos for shorter periods of time, by selecting a lower resolution, by not leaving the player on while doing something else, and on the other hand, streaming websites can reduce the file sizes of the videos they share.

Video ads and auto-playing videos in social media apps are other small yet power-hungry creatures. We watch so many of these components not because we decide to do so ourselves, but because they are enabled for us. Wherever possible (e.g. on Facebook, Netflix, YouTube app), turn off autoplay of videos and previews of videos you see while browsing these sites. You can also use browser plug-ins (e.g., AdBlock or uBlock) that block advertisements and elements such as automatically running media.

During teleconferences and on-line workshops, enable the camera only when necessary, e.g., during team-building exercises, when non-verbal communication is important for building relationships, etc. Disable your camera when it is not needed.

You may also be interested in reading: By reading this article, you will generate 1.82 grams of CO2 – the digital footprint of technology

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3. Clear your mailbox

Each spam message – even if you don’t open it – releases about 0.3 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere. Mail with text and an attachment can emit as much as 50g. That’s the estimate of Mike Berners-Lee (brother of Tim Berners-Lee, “inventor of the world wide web”), who does research on the carbon footprint. To reduce these emissions, (they work in the data centers that handle our mail) you may want to take steps which, by the way, will clean up your mailbox. It’s not just about writing less or shorter (although that matters too). Start by regularly deleting archived mail. Block and automatically delete spam, and if you get unnecessary e-mails such as those with automatic notifications or subscriptions then take a moment to opt out. This will limit the space on the server and reduce the server workload as you search through your mailbox.

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4. Browse wisely

Web browsers, while getting faster and better at guessing perfectly what we want to find out, are quite energy consuming. So think of ways to use them more reasonably, e.g. by typing in as precise queries as possible to avoid multiple searches or by refraining from searching for addresses of popular sites (instead, save them to your favourites or bookmarks).

5. Swap services for green alternatives

While on-line, you may come across services that are trying to do more for the planet than just be greenhouse gas neutral. Web browser Ecosia has become famous for planting trees with money from the ads it displays. Eighty percent of the profits go to planting trees in areas that need them most. 

E-mail service provider Posteo has built its service around renewable energy sources and working exclusively with companies that care about the planet themselves. Even the bank they use invests in a socially and climate responsible way.

Among cryptocurrencies, too, there are differences in approaches to energy consumption, though these are more of promises than actionable alternatives for now. Developers of  Ethereum strive towards reducing the amount of energy required to operate them. If they succeed in radically reducing it, perhaps other cryptocurrencies will follow the same path. Meanwhile, the most popular cryptocurrency, i.e. consumes more energy per year than Finland.

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6. Find green web hosting for your websites

If you run a website, you can check with the calculator what carbon footprint it generates and if there is anything you can do to reduce it. Apart from optimizing its performance (e.g. reducing the size of images, limiting unnecessary add-ons running in the background), you can also change your hosting service provider to one whose servers are powered by renewable energy or who at least offsets its carbon footprint.

If the register of service providers operated by Green Web Foundation still misses the companies from your region, extend your search. Fortunately, the Internet knows no borders and you can choose a green provider from another corner of the world.