We are more reliant on technology and electronics than ever before, especially as the world embraces working from home. But did you know your online activities have a carbon footprint?
Digital carbon footprints are produced when consumer technologies like computers, phones, and tablets create large amounts of carbon emissions, despite being marketed as low-power devices. This footprint exists due to two sources - electricity, which commonly comes from fossil fuels, and because of the mining of materials needed to manufacture these devices.
Data centers also have digital carbon footprints. Ever wonder where all of the items in your cloud live? In large data centers. Huge amounts of data is uploaded to the cloud every year and it is projected to house 100 zettabytes (one zettabyte = 1 million gigabytes) of data in the cloud by 2025. The more data is stored in data facilities, the more energy is required to operate them, leading to a large carbon footprint. E-waste, otherwise known as electronic waste, also contributes to digital carbon footprints. Trashed electronics account for over 40 million tons of industrial waste worldwide. Dated or obsolete electronics are often not recycled properly, posing many environmental and social concerns. With the increased demand for new electronics, larger amounts of older, obsolete, or broken electronics get thrown away.
While these issues may seem daunting, you can still take steps to reduce your digital carbon footprint.
Using renewable energy sources at home such as solar and geothermal significantly reduces both your personal and digital carbon footprint. Reducing your use of cloud storage by deleting unwanted files or locally storing data via an external hard drive. Keeping your inbox clean, and unsubscribing to newsletters you don’t read are only a few ways to reduce pressure on external data centers. You can also use Ecosia as your preferred search engine which plants trees as you browse.
Finally, properly recycling old electronics or trading in used electronics for newer ones helps reduce e-waste. We have written about the benefits of buying secondhand electronics here.