The Internet's Carbon Footprint

The Internet's Carbon Footprint

We often think of the internet as a cloud service, where data is stored somewhere away from our hard-drives and physical media.

In reality, for the internet to work as it does it requires millions of servers, routers and cables to function. With much of this hardware underground, under the sea and tucked away in rural and city locations it’s not visible unless we search for it.

To power the internet’s infrastructure, we need energy. The internet’s energy comes from power sources that produce carbon dioxide. So, every time you perform a google search, send an email or subscribe to a newsletter you use energy and create C02.

Internet server room

Google actions 3.5 billion searches every day, accounting for 40% of the internet’s carbon footprint. We don’t think about it, but really the internet is having a huge impact on the environment. To put it into perspective, one Google search creates an estimated .2 to 7 grams of carbon dioxide emissions. 7 grams is the same as driving a car for 52 feet.

From physical to cloud data

Looking at a website with video or images on the page emits .2 grams of C02 per second. This may not seem like much, but it’s very important. As the internet’s capability advances, with the popularity of streaming services such as Netflix and video hosting sites like YouTube, the emphasis from physical to cloud data continues apace.

To power the increasing demands of streamers and video consumers, the internet’s carbon footprint is expected to rise. To support the trend of ‘streaming’ and the downturn of physical media such as discs, the strain on the data centres and hard-wired infrastructure of the internet increases. In turn, so does the internet’s strain on our energy production. In North America alone, Netflix and YouTube account for more than 50% of the internet’s traffic at peak times.

The ‘green cloud’

As technology advances to deliver videos and images on demand to our smartphones, tablets and desktops, the question is, why aren’t companies creating green solutions with the same service-driven level of speed? Thankfully, some of the big players in the internet world are now delivering infrastructure powered by green energy.

In 2017 Google announced that it expected to reach 100% renewable energy for its global operations, including offices and data centres. Powered by wind and solar energy, Google now has 20 renewable energy projects around the world. It has made a commitment to make its data centres 50% more efficient than the industry average.

Solar power farm

Google isn’t the only big tech company making strides towards sustainable energy, Facebook has committed to using 100% renewable energy by 2020. It stated that it is “committed to fighting climate change. We’ve set an aggressive science-based goal to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.”

As well as Google and Facebook, Apple has made strides towards a ‘green cloud’, with data centres powered by wind, solar and geothermal energy.

How can you help?

What can we do as internet users to reduce our own browsing footprint? Every click and every action we make online creates C02 emissions, but there are ways we can reduce our impact. We can:

  • Unsubscribe from newsletters we don’t read
  • Make our most visited websites favourites
  • Use ‘reply all’ less
  • Choose to store our data with a green cloud provider
  • Enter the url of a website we know rather than using Google search
  • Reduce the size of documents we send by email.

Use Ecosia to search

If you really want to help the environment while you browse the web and search for things you should try Ecosia! We love Ecosia at EcoVibe, every time you complete a search with Ecosia instead of Google, the initiative plants a tree!

Ecosia app

So far Ecosia has planted over 50 million trees worldwide. It uses this simple model: You search the web with Ecosia, the search ads they serve generate income, Ecosia uses this income to plant trees. Amazing!

Ecosia plants trees to fight back against rainforest deforestation, preserving vital animal habitats and replenishing the trees that push back against carbon dioxide emissions.


1 comment

  • Paul Magnall

    Interesting reading. I’ve just used the Internet to find and read this article on my tablet – https://climateinemergency.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/the-carbon-footprint-of-a-book/
    I love books and prefer to read a paper book rather than an ebook but finding things is so much easier on the Internet. It is interesting to compare the carbon cost of the Internet compared with a book, 2g per search compared with 2-4kg for an average book.
    At the end of the day it is how the energy is generated and how much resources we are consuming, both books and computers are far from green. Perhaps the greenest option is word of mouth – listening and learning from each other!

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