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Do I emit CO2 when I surf the internet?

Last updated on 14 January 2019

We tend to forget about this, but every web search, every email sent or received, and every status update on Facebook means the consumption of electricity and therefore the emission of greenhouse gases!

The use of the internet involves not only the use of a device directly connected to a plug or a battery charged with electricity, but also calling on millions of pieces of data stored on servers. These servers are particularly energy hungry! This is because of the way they work plus the way we use them.

Does the internet use a lot of energy? Some figures…

In 2018, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) account for 6 to 10% of global electricity consumption, or 4% of our greenhouse gas emissions. And this figure increases by 5 to 7% each year!

Some striking data:

  • A one-megabyte email (= 1 MB) during its total life cycle emits 20 g of CO2 , i.e. the equivalent of an old 60 W lamp lit for 25 min.
  • 20 emails a day per user over one year, create the same CO2 emissions as a car travelling 1000 km.
  • single router consumes 10,000 watts (10 kW). A very large data centre comes close to 100 million watts (100 MW), or one-tenth of the output of a thermal power station. In fact, on top of the consumption required to run the servers, the electronic circuits must be cooled using air conditioning.
  • The search for a web address represents 3.4 Wh (0.8 g CO2 equivalent). But the total rises to 10 g after an internet search producing five results.If a web user makes an average of 2.6 web searches per day, this user can be extrapolated to be emitting 9.9 kg of CO2 equivalent per year.
  • When browsing the web, an average internet user yearly needs about 365 kWh electricity and 2,900 litres of water, which corresponds to the CO2 that is emitted when you travel a good 1,400 km by car.

Internet issues

The excessive consumption of electricity required to make the internet work is partly due to structural or design problems.

Thus, web infrastructures are oversized in order to respond to peak usage. A router, for example, generally operates at 60% of its capacity. But even when inactive, these devices consume almost as much energy as when they’re running at full capacity, and no provision is made for switching them off during off-peak hours!

On the other hand, applications installed on our smartphones are too often developed in a hurry so that they can be put on the market quickly. There is little optimisation; their batteries are drained in just one day, so they need frequent topping up

Finally, broadband boxes installed in the home have no stop buttons and operate day and night. Why? They usually take 90 seconds to come on, initialise and connect, and the suppliers believe that we as consumers do not have the patience to wait so long every day...

What can I do as a user to limit my CO2 emissions on the internet?

  1. Reduce the size of the documents you send by email to reduce the weight of the message.
  2. Use hypertext links rather than an attachment and compress large documents.
  3. Don’t spread chain mail, petitions, humorous images, fakes, hoaxes or gossip.
  4. Regularly delete emails that have been dealt with, and don’t forget to empty the bin.
  5. Unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t read.
  6. Enter the address of a website if you know it rather than going through a search engine.
  7. Cut down on the number of pages you view by using specific keywords.
  8. Make your regularly viewed websites favourites.
  9. Make regular use of your smartphone's optimisation feature that stops apps (sometimes several dozen) running unnecessarily in the background and empties unnecessarily occupied memory space without erasing any of your data.

Also read: How to reduce the energy consumed by my PC, smartphone and tablet?

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