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How to Reduce Your Tech Carbon Footprint

From Zoom to Netflix to emails, there's lots of easy little tweaks you can make to minimise your impact on the planet.

To all of you who have been keeping your cameras off during Zoom calls, well done. You may have simply been trying to hide your face, but what you might not know is that you were also drastically cutting your carbon footprint. A study published in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling, suggests that leaving your camera off during a video call can reduce the carbon footprint of that call by 96 percent.

The study reveals that just one hour of videoconferencing or streaming emits between 150 and 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide. For comparison, a gallon of gasoline burned from a car emits about 8,887 grams. So, if you're a frequent Zoomer and you do the maths, over the course of a month of video calls, you'll likely save the equivalent of a significant car journey in a fossil-fuel car.

As for emails, it's a good idea to stop saying thank you. “If each British adult would abstain from sending out a “Thank you” email, we would conserve more than 16,000 tons of CO2 per year - equal to 81,000 flights from London to Madrid. Are really all the emails we send necessary?” says Anneli Ohvril, one of Digital Cleanup Day's project leaders.

Similarly, choosing standard definition rather than high definition when you’re streaming content from services such as Netflix can achieve an 86 percent reduction in your carbon footprint.

The reason these services can be so detrimental to the environment is that the data processing uses a lot of electricity. And, producing any amount of electricity, comes with carbon, water, and land footprint - so reducing the amount of data you upload or download reduces environmental damage.

The internet’s carbon footprint had already been increasing before lockdown, accounting for about 3.7 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That's about the same as the aviation industry.

“Banking systems tell you the positive environmental impact of going paperless, but no one tells you the benefit of turning off your camera or reducing your streaming quality,” said Kaveh Madani, a researcher who led the study as a visiting fellow at Yale University MacMillan Center.


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