Your Internet Habits and its Carbon Footprint

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With rapid digitalisation, it’s difficult to imagine passing every day without using the Internet. 

The internet lets us send messages, stream videos, download files, listen to music, and many other things right at our fingertips, yet our internet habits have an astonishing impact on the environment. 

But first, what does the internet actually mean?

We use it every day, for sure. But do we understand what it actually means?

In general, the internet is a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols. 

As explained by The Guardian, the internet is the wider network that allows computer networks around the world run by companies, governments, universities, and other organisations to communicate with one another. 

It is a system architecture that transformed communication and commerce to what it is today, as we know it, by allowing different computer networks around the world to interconnect.

How much energy does the internet consume?

The information and communications technology (ICT) industry can consume 20% of the world’s electricity and release over 5% of the world’s carbon emissions by 2025. 

Anders Andrae, the author of the study, also expects the industry power demand to increase from 2-300Twh of electricity a year to 1,200 or 3,000Twh by 2025.

In other words, energy use will rapidly increase to meet the demands of the ICT industry in the coming years.

According to the International Energy Agency, data centers processing and storing data from various online activities (i.e., sending emails and streaming videos) already account for 1% of global electricity use.

Other emerging technologies will continually demand more data centre and network services.

While the growth of the ICT industry proves to be a promising prospect, the increase in demand can potentially hamper global efforts to meet climate change targets.

Impacts of the coronavirus pandemic 

Between February and mid-April 2020, global internet traffic surged by almost 40% during the peak of the Covid-19 containment measures.

This was primarily due to an increase in demand for video conferencing, online gaming, and social networking.

We imagine this to be true. Think back to the Movement Control Order (MCO) period in Malaysia when we had to stay at home! There must have been ample time then to be on our digital devices.

This growth in global internet traffic coincides with the rising trends in data and digital services, which will drive its exponential growth over the next couple of years.

Some notable facts to consider:

  • Global internet traffic is expected to double by 2022 to 4.2 zettabytes per year (4.2 trillion gigabytes)
  • The number of mobile internet users is projected to increase from 3.8 billion in 2019 to 5 billion by 2025

One thing that’s for sure – the internet is here to stay.

The Carbon Footprint of our Internet Activity

In terms of individual internet activity, our contribution to global emissions may not turn out to be as significant.

Yet, when multiplied with the approximately 4.1 billion people (51.36% of the global population) currently using the internet, things can add up pretty quickly.

Here’s a breakdown of the carbon footprint of several typical things that we do on the internet, referenced from BBC’s Smart Guide to Climate Change:

Addressing carbon emissions from our internet habits

For some of us, our daily lives depend on online activity. Therefore, it may sound unrealistic for us to readjust our internet habits to be conscious of carbon emissions.

However, we believe this to be doable with a few habit adjustments.

Fewer memes and cat videos, perhaps

Take the emails, for instance. By omitting unnecessary emails, we will be doing the planet a favor by cutting down on carbon emissions. It will also help to unsubscribe from mailing lists we no longer appreciate and replacing large attachments with links.

OVO Energy estimated that if every Briton sent one less thank-you email per day, we would be able to save 16,433 tonnes of carbon per year. This figure is estimated to be equivalent to 81,152 flights to Madrid!

Streaming online videos also contribute significantly to our carbon footprint. For our planet, it may be worthwhile to consider adjusting autoplay and resolution settings and stopping videos from playing unintentionally.

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Sources for Data Centres

Efforts can be taken on a larger scale, too.

Current trends in mobile networks point to a shift away from older 2G and 3G technology towards 4G and 5G, which are about five times more energy-efficient than 3G and 50 times more efficient than 2G.

Another solution is utilizing renewable energy sources instead of non-renewables in cooling a data centre’s processors. 

Google, for instance, has been striving to make Google data centres some of the most efficient in the world. Google not only sources enough carbon-free energy sources to match their consumption in every place they operate, but their data centres use much less energy than the typical data centre.

Digitalisation at Biji-biji Initiative 

As a social enterprise, our digital tools and skills are among our most valuable assets to achieve and create an impact on the community.

The Internet, no doubt, is crucial to our daily operations and dealings throughout our projects, programmes, and events. 

Coincidentally, we’re also a strong proponent for sustainability in our operations. Striking a balance between our internet habits and being conscious of our carbon footprint is no easy feat, but it’s important to strive for better for a sustainable future.

What do your internet habits look like?

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