How to significantly reduce your digital carbon footprint?

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

Contrary to popular belief, digital life does not solve environmental problems. In particular, it requires a lot of electrical energy. Hence the need to be aware of small digital gestures that save the planet.

Many digital devices on a desk. Laptop, Mac, tablet, phone, keyboard. Digital footprint invisible. Climate Coping.
All the devices we use everyday

According to a report published in October 2018 by "The Shift Project", digital activities would be responsible for 4% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, digital energy consumption is increasing by 9% per year. To access the internet, we rely on 9 billion devices, including 2 billion smartphones, 1 billion computers, 5 to 7 billion connected objects, 45 million servers, 800 million network equipment, ADSL boxes among others... Figures that make you dizzy, especially when you know that most of the environmental impact stems from the manufacture of our devices and their end of life, if it is badly managed. The manufacture of a single computer requires no less than 240 kg of fossil fuels, 22 kg of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water!

So what are we waiting for to reduce our numerical footprint?

Extend the life expectancy of your equipment

  • Keep your digital equipment as long as possible (more than 4 years). If you take care of it, a smartphone can be used for 5 years and a laptop for more than 10 years!

  • Opt for reconditioned rather than new equipment.

  • Favour environmental labels (Blue Angel, TCO, EPEAT...) for computer equipment.

  • Remove all unnecessary software that often slow down computers. Repair and reuse before throwing away.

  • Give your old computer to an actor of the reuse system. After being cleaned and refurbished, your old smartphone or computer will be donated or resold. It will then have a second life. By favouring an actor of the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) you will actively contribute to social integration and the fight against the digital divide.

  • Recycling is the last option. If you have to dispose of your equipment, put it in a suitable container or in a specialised store that will be able to give priority to its reuse if it is still working.

Limite the energy consumption of your equipment

All our uses on the internet have an impact. They have consequences on the climate, on biodiversity and even on the depletion of non-renewable natural resources. Whether it's searching through an engine, sending a simple e-mail or even storing a few files and photos for example, all these small actions in our daily lives have an environmental footprint. There are, however, a few simple tips to become a responsible Internet user and reduce your digital footprint.

  • Put your computer to sleep after 3 minutes without using it and turn it off during a long break.

  • Turn down the brightness of your screen: reducing the brightness of your monitor from 100 percent to 70 percent can save up to 20 percent of your energy consumption. It will also help reduce eye strain.

  • Avoid sending too many e-mails and limit attachments and the number of recipients. If you need to send a document to someone close to you, prefer a transfer via a USB key, because the heavier the email, the greater its environmental impact.

  • Regularly sort through your emails and delete all unnecessary ones (spams can be deleted automatically).

  • Have light email signatures without high resolution images.

  • Prefer downloading to streaming: by choosing to download rather than watch online, data will only be transmitted through the server once. Some streaming services are more energy efficient than others, according to Greenpeace's Click Clean report.

  • If a colleague is nearby and you need to ask him something, go and see him in person instead of sending an email or a Skype/Slack/Teams message.

  • Store locally rather than in the cloud: online storage of e-mails, photos, videos, music and other documents requires constant back and forth between the user's terminal and the servers.

  • Bookmark sites that are regularly searched for, rather than leaving numerous tabs open all the time.

  • Switching off your ADSL box and TV box when you don't need them.

Offset your digital carbon footprint

The Ecosia search engine, Partner of the WWF foundation, finances the planting of trees from the profit generated by online searches. This year, Ecosia reached a symbolic number of planted trees: 1,000,000! Don't they say that small streams make big rivers?

There are some other search engines that care about their carbon footprint and the use of their users' data:

  • Lilo - funds environmental and social projects for free and is carbon neutral.

  • Qwant - respects privacy by not collecting personal data from its users and is also carbon neutral.

  • Ecogine - a french associative search engine, which donates its advertising revenues to environmental associations chosen by Internet users. In addition, it also offsets the CO2 consumed by the data centres, servers and terminal used by the user during his searches.

Do you have any other tip of your own that you want to share? Tell us in the comment section!

Discover more:

- How to protect my garden from climate change ?

- Miyawaki method : prepare cities for climate change by planting urban forests

- How to better cope and protect yourself from flash floods?

- How can you prepare for and better cope with recurring heat waves?

- Passive houses are the future