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03/04 - Renovation

How to Reduce Your Digital Carbon Footprint

How to Reduce Your Digital Carbon Footprint |

Greening Your Home and Lifestyle to Reduce Your Digital Carbon Footprint

Did you know your online activity comes with a digital carbon footprint? That the cloud is not actually a cloud? In fact, our information is stored in data centres, some of them the size of football stadiums, containing thousands of computers operating 24/7, 365 days a year (well – 366 days this year). These centres store and send our emails, videos and documents. They require huge amounts of power as well as adequate cooling systems. That’s a lot of  energy consumption – and a lot of Co2 production!

In fact, the global information and communication technology (ICT) ecosystem has an environmental impact so large that its carbon footprint is on a par with the entire aviation industry’s emissions from fuel. That’s right. Our combined Instagram likes, Google searches, emails and Netflix binges have the same impact on the environment as the much-maligned airline industry.  

Does that sound alarming? It is. But it also isn’t. Google and Apple claim they power their servers with 100% renewable energy—solar panels, wind turbines and hydroelectric dams. Moreover, Facebook will use 100% clean energy by the end of 2020. Amazon uses 50% renewable energy and is working towards 100%. Netflix? Not so squeaky clean – only 17% of their data centres are powered by clean energy sources.



What Can You do to Reduce Your Digital Carbon Footprint?

Don’t worry. These are easy. They’re little things that will have no impact on you and will have an impact on your digital carbon footprint. Here are three ways to reduce your digital carbon footprint: 


1. Email

Reducing Your Digital Carbon Footprint: Emails |

Emails are the biggest energy drain. Your messages pass through your ISP to their data centre and then redirected to the recipient’s data centre – all of that takes energy. And your emails? Each one stored in your email account emits CO2. Consider this, “sending 33 emails (1 MB each) to two recipients every day produces the same amount of Co2 as driving 1000 km by car. Each year, almost 300 billion emails are sent globally. 80% are never opened.” That’s some pretty scary math…and an even scarier energy drain! How can you do your part?

  • Cut the clutter
    Delete, delete, delete. A six-person email with twenty-plus threads for dinner plans in October 2018 is no longer useful or relevant – and it also wastes energy.
  • Unsubscribe
    Use Cleanfox to delete and unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters in one click. Well, one click after you connect it to your email account, which takes a few minutes.
  • Keep your attachments in check
    Files, photos and videos attached to your emails live on your server and the recipient’s server. That can add up quickly. Share a link instead and let Google Drive, One Drive or any other file sharing platform store your information on one server. And check yourself before you send the latest cat meme to your entire email contact list – for so many reasons!
  • Check your attachments
    Every “oops – file attached” email has a digital carbon footprint. In fact, every “one more thing” and “forgot to add” email are just as bad. Check your attachments. Check your thoughts and try to get it right the first time.
  • Empty your spam and recycle bin
    If you have 250 messages in your spam folder your server is using energy to store those for you. Guilty – I just deleted 264 messages from my spam folder. 


2. Internet Searches

Reducing Your Digital Carbon Footprint: Internet Searches |

All the data that we want now and fast comes with its own digital carbon footprint. A smaller footprint than emails but a footprint nonetheless. “In CO2 terms, a year of Google searches equals 2 billion km driven by car” – and that’s just Google searches. What can you do?

  • Switch to an eco-responsible search engine
    Ecosia is like any other search engine, with two major differences: they produce twice as much solar power as needed to power their searches, “crowding out dirty energy from the grid” AND they use their ad revenue profits to plant trees. 45 searches = one tree planted. Plus trees are planted where they are needed most – reforesting mountain slopes in Ethiopia, restoring watershed in Ghana, protecting the home of the orangutan in Indonesia, to name a few.
  • Skip the search engine
    When you use the address bar to search instead of a search engine, the drop-down menu will show matching web pages from your browsing history. This brings your search carbon footprint to nil – especially when you’re looking for Pinterest for the millionth time. And, if you don’t get any results in your browsing history for “top interior design predictions for 2020” you can search without guilt with Ecosia – also an option in the drop-down menu.
  • Close your tabs
    Each tab that you have open is connected to a web page that remains open and is continuously connected to its server and consuming energy.
  • Turn on tracking protection
    Data tracking services collect crazy amounts of information. If you’ve ever explored Google Analytics you know how much is collected – and that’s the tip of the iceberg. Most websites transmit data about you not just to Google but to dozens, sometimes, hundreds of companies. Imagine the energy used in transmitting data about your internet usage to a data centre and then to a third party and so on and so forth. A lot. Turning on your tracking protection will reduce some of this energy. 


3. Streaming

Reducing Your Digital Carbon Footprint: Streaming |

Netflix alone consumes 15% of the world’s internet traffic – and remember, 17% of their energy consumption is clean energy. Add in Spotify, Apple Music, Prime, Crave and so many other streaming providers and you’ve got close to 70%, a staggering number and a huge digital carbon footprint.

According to one source, “when the music video for ‘Despacito’ became the first video on YouTube to hit five billion views, the energy used for those streams was the equivalent energy use of 40,000 homes in a year.” What else can you do?

  • Download
    Downloading your favourite playlist, podcast, tv show or movie means you pull the data from the server only once. Guilty – when I stage a property I stream music pretty much the whole time. That’s at least 6 hours of streaming. Lesson learned. I will download my favourite playlists and cut back on my digital carbon footprint.
  • Skip the HD
    “Try watching your favourite series in low resolution. When streaming, you consume between four to ten times less energy than watching in high definition.” It’s a little old school – but you might not get as distracted by the crazy amount of make-up that some actors wear to look natural (and look anything but in high definition).


Going Green

Sorry Kermit! It is easy being green. Well, kind of green. As promised, these are easy fixes that will reduce your digital carbon footprint. 

Full disclosure. When I started writing this post on sustainable home furnishings and accessories, our digital carbon footprint was going to be a bonus tip – and I started at the end. I went down the rabbit hole and discovered that our digital carbon footprint has a huge impact and is worthy of a post of its own. Stay tuned, more to come on creating an eco-conscious home and it won’t make you feel nearly as guilty, I promise. Well, I hope.



This article is written by Kathy Mighton, Project Manager and Lead Designer here at Fox Marin Associates. She is FM Design’s creator of well-crafted spaces that inspire and impress! A true design enthusiast, there are not enough walls or surfaces in Kathy’s life to display all the art that she loves.