Digital technologies have a bigger effect on global greenhouse gas emissions than you might think. Luckily, you can reduce your digital carbon footprint, or the carbon emissions produced by your online behavior. In this post, we will go through all of the ways that you can reduce emissions produced by technology.
What Is A Digital Carbon Footprint?
A digital carbon footprint refers to the amount of carbon dioxide emissions generated by our use of digital technologies. This includes the energy consumed by devices like smartphones, computers, and tablets, the data centers that store and process our online data, and the networks that connect us to the internet. Every time we stream a video, send an email, or search the web, we’re contributing to this footprint.
It’s a lesser-known aspect of our daily lives that impacts the environment, as the energy used often comes from sources that emit greenhouse gasses. Being aware of our digital carbon footprint is the first step towards reducing it and making more environmentally friendly choices in our digital lives.
Where Does Most Of Your Online Carbon Footprint Come From?
Most of your online carbon footprint comes from the energy used by data centers, networks, and the devices we use to access the internet. Data centers, which store and process vast amounts of digital information, are particularly energy-intensive, as they require constant power for not only running servers but also for cooling systems to prevent overheating.
Additionally, the networks that transmit data, including broadband and cellular networks, contribute significantly to energy consumption. On the user end, the devices we use daily, like smartphones, laptops, and tablets, also add to this footprint, especially when we engage in high-energy activities like streaming high-definition videos or extensive online gaming.
Understanding these key contributors to climate change, can help us make more informed choices to reduce our individual impact on the environment.
Ways To Reduce Your Digital Carbon Footprint
1. Opt for Energy-Efficient Devices
When purchasing new devices like laptops, smartphones, or tablets, look for energy-efficient models. These devices consume less power, reducing your electricity usage and carbon footprint as you shop or browse online. Check for energy ratings and reviews focused on power efficiency before making a purchase.
Energy Ratings to Look For:
- ENERGY STAR Rating: This is a widely recognized symbol for energy efficiency. Products with the ENERGY STAR label meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the European Union.
- EPEAT Rating: The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is used to evaluate the environmental impact of electronic products. Look for devices with a high EPEAT rating, which indicates lower energy consumption and a smaller environmental footprint.
- TCO Certified: This certification is for IT products with a focus on sustainability. It covers energy efficiency as well as the social and environmental responsibility of manufacturers.
Known Energy-Efficient Devices:
- Laptops: Brands like Apple, Lenovo, and Dell offer laptops with high energy efficiency. For instance, the Apple MacBook Air and Lenovo ThinkPad series are known for their energy-efficient performance.
- Smartphones: The iPhone SE, Samsung Galaxy S series, and Google Pixel phones are examples of energy-efficient smartphones. They often include features like adaptive battery use and energy-saving modes.
- Tablets: The iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and Microsoft Surface Pro are tablets recognized for their efficient power usage.
Making Existing Devices More Energy Efficient:
If you’re not in the market for a new device, there are ways to enhance the energy efficiency of your current device:
- Adjust Power Settings: Utilize built-in power-saving modes. Adjust screen brightness, set the device to sleep after a short period of inactivity, and turn off background apps.
- Battery Maintenance: Proper battery maintenance can enhance efficiency. Avoid overcharging and extreme temperature exposure.
- Regular Updates: Keep your device’s software up to date. Software updates often include optimizations that improve energy efficiency.
- Use Energy-Saving Features: Many devices have features designed to save energy. For example, smartphones often have an “eco mode” or “battery saver” that reduces power consumption.
2. Limit Streaming Quality
Reducing the streaming quality of videos and music is an effective way to conserve energy. High-definition (HD) and ultra-high-definition (UHD) content require more data storage and processing power, leading to higher energy consumption. Here are actionable steps to make your streaming more energy-efficient:
Adjusting Video Streaming Quality:
- Lower the Resolution: Most streaming platforms like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu allow you to manually adjust the video quality. Opt for standard definition (SD) or a lower HD setting instead of the default high-resolution setting.
- Default Settings: Change the default settings on your streaming apps to a lower resolution. This ensures that every video starts in a more energy-efficient mode.
- Limit 4K and UHD Streaming: Reserve 4K and UHD streaming for special viewings on large screens. For everyday use, especially on smaller screens like smartphones or tablets, lower resolutions are sufficient and more energy-efficient.
Optimizing Music Streaming Quality:
- Reduce Audio Quality: On platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and others, choose a lower bitrate for audio streaming. For instance, opt for 128 kbps instead of 320 kbps. The difference in audio quality is often negligible, especially when not using high-end audio equipment.
- Offline Listening: Download music when connected to Wi-Fi and listen offline. This reduces the energy used for streaming the same songs repeatedly.
Utilizing Smart TV and Device Features:
- Energy Saving Mode: Many Smart TVs and streaming devices have an energy-saving mode that reduces screen brightness and optimizes power consumption.
- Automatic Shutdown: Set your devices to automatically turn off or go into sleep mode if inactive for a certain period. This prevents unnecessary streaming and energy use.
Mindful Streaming Habits:
- Stream Only What You Watch: Avoid leaving streams running in the background. Turn off autoplay to prevent streaming videos or music you’re not actively watching or listening to.
- Consolidate Viewing: Instead of streaming the same content on multiple devices, consolidate viewing on a single device or watch together with family or friends.
3. Unsubscribe from Unnecessary Emails
Each email in your inbox contributes to your digital carbon footprint. Actively unsubscribe from newsletters and marketing emails that you don’t read. This not only declutters your inbox but also reduces the energy used in storing and sending these emails.
4. Use Eco-Friendly Search Engines
Choose search engines that are committed to reducing carbon emissions or that support environmental initiatives. Some search engines plant trees or invest in renewable energy projects with their profits, making your searches more eco-friendly.
4. Use Eco-Friendly Search Engines
Opting for eco-friendly search engines is a simple yet effective way to contribute to environmental sustainability. These search engines either operate in a carbon-neutral manner or support environmental initiatives, such as tree planting or investing in renewable energy sources and projects. Here are some notable eco-friendly search engines:
- Ecosia: Ecosia uses the profits from your searches to plant trees. It’s one of the most popular eco-friendly search engines, known for its transparency and significant contributions to reforestation projects around the world.
- OceanHero: OceanHero is dedicated to cleaning the oceans. Every five searches you make through OceanHero help to recover ocean-bound plastic.
- Ekoru: Ekoru donates a significant portion of its revenue to environmental causes, focusing on ocean conservation and reforestation.
- YouCare: YouCare is known for its charitable approach. Each search contributes to a variety of social and environmental causes, including animal welfare, tree planting, and clean water initiatives.
- Gexsi: Gexsi focuses on supporting social projects and sustainable development goals with its profits.
5. Consolidate Online Orders
When shopping online, try to consolidate your purchases into fewer, larger orders. This approach reduces the carbon emissions associated with packaging and shipping multiple small parcels. It’s a simple change that can have a significant environmental impact.
6. Support Eco-Friendly Ecommerce Platforms
Shop on ecommerce platforms known for their sustainability practices. Look for platforms that offset their business carbon footprint, use eco-friendly packaging, or support environmental causes. Your patronage encourages more eco-conscious business practices.
7. Use Dark Mode on Devices
Enable dark mode on your devices. This feature reduces the amount of light emitted by screens, saving energy, especially on devices with OLED or AMOLED screens. It’s a small change that can reduce your device’s energy consumption.
8. Close Unused Tabs and Apps
Keep your digital workspace clean by closing tabs and apps you’re not using. This reduces the energy consumption of your device, as fewer active processes require less power.
- OneTab: A browser extension that converts all open tabs into a list, saving up to 95% of memory and reducing tab clutter. Available for Chrome and Firefox.
- The Great Suspender: Automatically suspends tabs that haven’t been used for a while, freeing up system resources and allowing customization of suspension settings.
- Forest: An app that encourages focus and productivity by growing a virtual tree as you work, which withers if you navigate to distracting apps or websites, thus promoting the closure of unnecessary tabs and apps.
- StayFocusd: A Google Chrome extension that limits the amount of time spent on time-wasting websites, blocking them for the rest of the day once the allotted time is used up, with customizable website blocking options.
- Cold Turkey: Blocks distracting websites, apps, or the entire internet, with flexible scheduling options and settings lock to minimize digital distractions and encourage closing unneeded apps and tabs.
9. Optimize Device Settings
Adjust your device’s settings for energy efficiency. Lower the screen brightness, set a shorter time for sleep mode, and activate power-saving modes. These small adjustments can cumulatively save a significant amount of energy over time.
- Lower Screen Brightness: Reduce the brightness level of your device’s screen to the lowest comfortable setting.
- Enable Power-Saving Modes: Activate built-in power-saving or battery saver modes to optimize energy use.
- Shorten Sleep Mode Timer: Set your device to enter sleep or standby mode after a short period of inactivity.
- Disable Background App Refresh: Turn off automatic background app refresh to save energy and data.
- Reduce Screen Timeout: Set a shorter screen timeout duration to ensure the screen turns off quickly when not in use.
- Turn Off Unnecessary Notifications: Disable push notifications for apps that aren’t essential to reduce battery drain.
- Use Wi-Fi Instead of Cellular Data: Whenever possible, connect to Wi-Fi instead of using cellular data, as it’s generally more energy-efficient.
- Manage Location Services: Limit the use of GPS and location services to only when necessary.
- Optimize Email Fetch Settings: Set your email to fetch manually or less frequently.
- Turn Off Vibrations: Disable vibration alerts and haptic feedback to conserve battery life.
- Use Dark Mode: If available, use dark mode to reduce screen energy consumption, especially on OLED and AMOLED screens.
- Regularly Close Unused Apps: Ensure that apps not in use are closed and not running in the background.
- Control Bluetooth and Wi-Fi: Turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when not in use to save energy.
- Adjust Graphics Settings: On devices where applicable, lower graphics settings to reduce power usage.
- Use Energy-Efficient Browsing: Enable energy-saving features in web browsers, like ad blockers or reading mode.
10. Regularly Update Software
Ensure your device’s software is up to date. Software updates often include optimizations that make your device run more efficiently, thereby reducing its energy consumption.
11. Use Cloud Services Wisely
Utilize cloud storage for your data, but be mindful of what you store. Regularly clean out unnecessary files to ensure that you’re not using more cloud storage than needed, as data centers consume a substantial amount of energy.
12. Avoid Unnecessary Online Activities
Be mindful of your online activities. Activities like online gaming or extensive browsing can be energy-intensive. Reducing the time spent on these activities can lower your digital carbon footprint.
Here are tons of fun activities that you can do that have no digital footprint:
- Reading Physical Books: Switch to reading physical books or magazines instead of digital versions.
- Outdoor Activities: Spend time outdoors, like hiking, gardening, or playing sports, which don’t require digital devices.
- Board Games and Puzzles: Engage in board games, puzzles, or card games, which are great for social interaction and entertainment without digital involvement.
- Arts and Crafts: Take up hobbies like painting, knitting, or DIY crafts that encourage creativity away from screens.
- Cooking and Baking: Experiment with new recipes in the kitchen, a rewarding activity that doesn’t involve digital devices.
- Physical Exercise: Participate in physical exercises like yoga, jogging, or gym workouts, which are beneficial for both physical and mental health.
- Meditation and Mindfulness: Practice meditation or mindfulness exercises, which can be done without any digital aid and are great for reducing stress.
- Socializing Face-to-Face: Spend quality time with family and friends in person, engaging in conversations and activities together.
- Playing Musical Instruments: Learn to play a musical instrument, an enriching skill that doesn’t require digital technology.
- Gardening: Tend to a garden or indoor plants, an eco-friendly activity that connects you with nature.
- Volunteering: Get involved in community service or volunteering, which provides a sense of fulfillment and community connection.
- Writing and Journaling: Write in a journal, compose poetry, or start a personal diary using pen and paper.
- Exploring Nature: Go for walks, hikes, or bike rides in natural settings, enjoying the environment without digital distractions.
- Attending Live Events: Participate in live events like theater, concerts, or sports games, which offer entertainment and social interaction.
- Learning New Skills: Take up non-digital hobbies like cooking classes, language learning, or art workshops.
13. Participate in E-Waste Recycling Programs
Dispose of your electronic waste responsibly. Participate in e-waste recycling programs to ensure that your old devices are recycled or disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.
- Local Recycling Centers: Many communities have dedicated recycling centers that accept electronic waste. Check with your local waste management services for locations and guidelines.
- Retail Stores: Some electronics retailers offer take-back or trade-in programs for old devices. Stores like Best Buy, Staples, and Apple often provide this service.
- Manufacturer Programs: Many electronic device manufacturers have their own recycling or trade-in programs. Companies like Dell, HP, Samsung, and Sony offer such options.
- Municipal Electronic Waste Collection Events: Some cities and towns hold special e-waste collection events, where you can drop off your unwanted electronics.
- Non-Profit Organizations: Organizations like Goodwill and The Salvation Army often accept working electronic devices. They refurbish and resell them, with proceeds going to charity.
- Mail-Back Programs: Some companies and recycling initiatives offer mail-back services where you can send your e-waste for proper recycling.
- Specialized E-Waste Recyclers: There are companies that specialize in e-waste recycling. They ensure that electronics are disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.
- Office Supply Stores: Certain office supply stores accept e-waste for recycling, especially smaller electronics like ink cartridges, batteries, and smartphones.
- Environmental NGOs: Non-governmental organizations focused on environmental protection sometimes organize e-waste recycling drives or can direct you to reliable recycling facilities.
Before recycling, make sure to wipe all personal data from your devices to protect your privacy. Also, it’s a good practice to check the specific items accepted by each program, as they can vary. By responsibly recycling e-waste, you’re helping to prevent hazardous materials from harming the environment and contributing to the circular economy.
14. Download Instead of Stream
Download music or videos instead of streaming them repeatedly. Downloading reduces the energy used in repeatedly streaming the same content, especially for content you enjoy frequently.
15. Educate Yourself on Digital Sustainability
Stay informed about the environmental impact of your digital activities. Understanding the carbon footprint of your online behavior can help you make more eco-friendly choices.
16. Advocate for Green Policies in Tech Companies
Support and advocate for sustainable practices in the tech industry. Use your voice as a consumer to encourage companies to adopt greener policies and practices, contributing to a more sustainable digital ecosystem.
Reducing carbon emissions begins at home with small actions. We hope these tips help you find ways to reduce your online carbon footprint!