Powering the Internet: Your Virtual Carbon Footprint [Infographic]

Across the globe, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have reached a staggering 39.9 billion tons annually, steadily increasing since the Industrial Revolution.

While CO2 is an essential greenhouse gas, massive amounts building up in the atmosphere negatively impact Earth’s climate.

Have you ever wondered how CO2 produced by the Internet contributes to global output?

In honor of Earth Day, we took a look at the Internet’s carbon footprint to determine how much CO2 is produced every day by popular Internet activities.

Check out the infographic below to learn more!


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What’s a carbon footprint?

You’ve likely heard the term carbon footprint in relation to CO2 production.

But what is a carbon footprint and why does yours matter?

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of CO2.

In other words, your carbon footprint directly relates to the amount of CO2 produced by daily activities.  If you want to reduce and offset your CO2 output, you first need to calculate your carbon footprint.

Activities like driving to work and cooking are known to emit CO2, but did you know that surfing the Internet produces CO2, too?

We’ll break down how the Internet produces CO2 below.

How does the Internet produce CO2?

Digital technologies account for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. How?

Here’s an overview of how the Internet creates CO2:

  1. The Internet relies on physical servers in data centers around the world.
  2. Data centers are connected with miles of undersea cables, switches, and routers that need energy to run.
  3. Much of that energy comes from power sources like coal, natural gas, and petroleum that emit CO2 as they burn fossil fuels.

In addition, technology companies emit CO2 by manufacturing and shipping hardware like:

  • Servers
  • Computers
  • Smartphones

CO2 emissions: Top 5 countries with the highest number of Internet users

After examining how the Internet produces CO2, we wanted to know — do countries with the most Internet users produce the most CO2?

Not exactly — here’s what the numbers show.

1.       China:

  • 854 million Internet users
  • 27% of global C02 emissions

2.       India:

  • 560 million Internet users
  • 6.8% of global CO2 emissions

3.       United States:

  • 313 million Internet users
  • 15% of global CO2 emissions

4.       Indonesia:

  • 171 million Internet users
  • 1.4% of global CO2 emissions

5.       Brazil:

  • 149 million Internet users
  • 1.3% of global CO2 emissions

As we see above, the U.S. ranks third in terms of Internet users, but it surpasses the second-ranked country, India, in terms of CO2 output. So, while there appears to be a slight correlation, many other factors impact each country’s CO2 production.

Global CO2 produced daily by the Internet

Next, we set out to determine how much CO2 is produced by the Internet.

Here’s a breakdown of global CO2 produced every day by Internet activities and popular platforms:

YouTube

Around the world, people watch 1 billion hours of YouTube videos every day. Watching YouTube videos produces six grams of CO2 per hour, resulting in 6 billion grams of CO2 produced globally every day. That’s the same amount of CO2 produced by driving to the moon 62 times!

Email

Around the world, people send and receive 306 billion emails every day. The average email (without a large attachment) produces 4 grams of CO2, resulting in 1.2 trillion grams of CO2 produced globally every day. That’s the same amount of CO2 produced by driving to the moon 12,000 times!

Facebook

Around the world, 1.7 billion people use Facebook every day. Using Facebook produces 0.8 grams of CO2 per user per day, resulting in 1.3 billion grams of CO2 produced globally every day. That’s the same amount of CO2 produced by driving to the moon 13 times!

Google search

Around the world, people conduct 3.5 billion Google searches every day. Each Google search produces 0.2 grams of CO2, resulting in 700 million grams of CO2 produced globally every day. That’s the same amount of CO2 produced by driving to the moon 7 times!

Tweet

Around the world, people send 500 million tweets every day. Each tweet produces 0.2 grams of CO2, resulting in 100 million grams of CO2 produced globally every day. That’s the same amount of CO2 produced by driving to the moon 7 times!

Text

Around the world, people send 18.7 billion text messages every day. Each text produces 0.014 grams of CO2, resulting in 261.8 million grams of CO2 produced globally every day. That’s the same amount of CO2 produced by driving to the moon 3 times!

*CO2 produced by driving 1 mile:  404 grams
*Miles to the moon: 238,855

How to reduce your carbon footprint online

Given the Internet’s significant carbon output, it’s important to reduce your digital carbon footprint.

Take a look at these quick hacks for cutting down your CO2 production.

1.       Switch to cloud computing

Companies can cut CO2 emissions by 50% by switching to cloud-based data storage.

2.       Lower monitor brightness

Dimming your monitor from 100%- 70% can save up to 20% of the energy it uses.

3.       Adjust power settings

Set your computer to enter sleep mode while taking a break. Laptops burn 15-60 watts of energy while in use and only 2-5 watts of energy in sleep mode.

4.       Unplug devices

Even when powered down, computers continue to draw 0.5-2 watts of energy if plugged in.

5.       Download instead of stream

Downloading means you only pull data from the server once.

These simple switches may seem insignificant, but they add up and play a key role in reducing our combined carbon footprint.

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And if you can  — take a few hours today to power down your electronics, get outside, and enjoy the beauty of our amazing planet!

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