internet use sustainable
Clément Fournier

Clément Fournier - Editor in Chief

Trained at Sciences Po Bordeaux and at Mines ParisTECH in social, environmental and economic issues, Clément has been editor-in-chief of Youmatter since 2015.

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How can we improve our digital footprint and pollute less on the internet? We’re sharing 5 simple but powerful tips.

It was on March 12, 1989, at CERN, Geneva, that the idea of ​​the Internet was born. Today, 30 years later, the Internet has completely changed our lives: how we communicate, work, get entertained, informed or do our shopping. But the truth is that the Internet also has a huge impact on our planet.

On one hand, manufacturing cellphones, laptops, and other types of devices and equipment means extracting (and separating or transporting) rare earth minerals from the Earth. On the other hand, data centers that represent the “cloud” on Earth are a synonym with energy consumption due to the storage and the permanent flow of data … In 2015, with GreenIT.fr, the Internet was estimated to represent 600 million tonnes of CO2 a year – as much as the world’s total civil aviation.

Therefore, is now more than ever necessary to play a more ecological role in what concerns the way we use the Internet and the devices that allow us to do so. Here are 5 simple tips to reduce the impact of your internet usage on the environment.

1 – Keep Your Laptop And Other Digital Equipment For Longer Periods

When we think of the pollution created by the Internet, we often think first of all about the data centers and the huge energy they consume. Yet, the reality is more nuanced. The Internet would not exist without all of our connected laptops, mobile phones or tablets that allow us to access the network. And contrary to popular belief, it is the manufacture of these devices that weighs the most in the environmental footprint of the Internet at the global level.

We consume (buy and discard) huge numbers of different tech devices every year so that we can be connected to the Internet, and the greenest gesture we can put into practice to reduce our digital footprint is certainly to limit this consumption. How or what – you may wisely ask? Well, first, extending the life of your equipment to its maximum extent so you can keeper them for longer. 

For this, you need to take good care of them and avoid possible damages. If instead of changing laptop every 3-4 years, you can keep it 6 or even 8 years, you’ll halve its impact – makes sense, right? Same thing for mobiles, internet boxes, and other devices…

2 – Avoid Over-Consuming Video Streaming

Streaming is now one of the biggest consumers of energy regarding our Internet usage. The transfer of real-time data for videos, often viewed in high definition quality, generates quite high energy consumption. One of the best ways to reduce the Internet’s energy consumption would be to limit the use of streaming. This is true for each of us as a user: watch fewer videos, and as far as possible less often in HD. 

But this is is also valid, for instance, for website designers, who build their webpages with automatic launching videos that increase the weight of the data to be loaded by users. And of course, it’s also the case with major web platforms that store on their servers hundreds of billions of bytes of video data broadcast on a large scale.

Whether you’re addicted to small cat videos, music videos or movies and series on Netflix, think about it: streaming has a big impact on the planet. And many of these uses can be limited: music can be heard without viewing the clip for example.

3 – Be Reasonable With The “Cloud” And Online Storage

In the same way as streaming, online storage solutions like the cloud cause a lot of energy consumption. Each photo or data you store online must be permanently preserved on a server that needs to be powered. And every time you want to access this data you have to exchange data with this server which still consumes more energy – both on your terminal, and via the network.

So do not store all your data in the cloud and favor local storage whenever possible so that you can reduce the energy consumption related to your Internet use.

4 – Learn How To Use Your Equipment Better

A large part of energy consumption linked to the Internet often comes from the bad use of equipment. For example, most consumers leave their internet box turned on during the night, which consumes energy for nothing. Many consumers also continue to use 4G at home instead of their wifi, but browsing wifi consumes much less energy than browsing the mobile network. If possible, choose wifi navigation.

Similarly: avoid watching TV via ADSL. Today, many TV channels allow you to watch them via ADSL, which means accessing the content using the Internet (via your laptop or tablet, for example). However, this consumes a lot more energy! Choose DDT (digital terrestrial television) and TNT (turner network television) broadcasting when possible.

In the same way, use your equipment in the most intelligent way possible. For example, do not leave your cellphone’s battery get completely empty because it shortens its lifecycle due to programmed obsolescence.

5 – Manage Your Emails Better (Without Necessarily Deleting Them)

Finally, the last step that can help reduce your environmental impact when you use the internet is to manage your emails. But be careful, that does not mean that you have to delete them. In fact, removing emails is not very useful from the environmental point of view because most of the impacts of an email are during the writing phase and the mail transport phase. Once sent, removing it does not have a big impact on the overall carbon footprint. So according to Frédéric Bordage of GreenIT.fr there are 5 actions we can take:

  • Send fewer emails and limit the number of recipients;
  • Write emails in text format rather than HTML (12 times less heavy and therefore less energy consuming);
  • Avoid attachments and email signatures, especially images that weigh down mailings;
  • Unsubscribe from the newsletters you’re no longer reading;
  • Do not print your emails.

With all this, you now hold the keys to use the Internet in a more eco-friendly way.

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