What is internet pollution and how can I surf the web greener?

In today’s world the internet has become a lifeline for many of us, allowing us to send messages, share pictures, download music, and stream videos all at a touch of a button. Indeed, today you may have gone online to send emails, look up what the weather will be like tomorrow, or even streamed music as you took a walk.

Our reliance on the internet can be explained through the feelings of frustrating we feel when the Wi-Fi won’t connect, or your network signal suddenly goes.


What is internet pollution?

Yet, while the internet has fundamentally transformed the way we go about our daily lives, our online habits also have a surprising impact on the environment. This is because every online activity undertaken, results in a few grams of carbon dioxide being emitted due to the energy needed to run your devices and power the wireless networks you access. In parallel, the data centres and vast services needed to support the internet are also highly energy intensive, with US data centres estimated to require 2% of the country’s total electricity use.

What’s more, the issue of internet pollution is expected to continue growing rapidly, as digital transformation of all aspects of our lives takes place. Luckily, awareness about internet pollution is growing and companies are taking action. In 2020, for example, for the fourth year in a row, Google purchased enough renewable energy to match 100 percent of its annual global electricity consumption and Microsoft, which owns the Bing search engine, has promised to become carbon negative by 2030. Nonetheless, there are also a number of habits that consumers can adopt to cut their own internet pollution and reduce their carbon footprint.


How can I surf the web greener?

There are a variety of tips and tricks you can apply to your internet habits in order to become eco-friendlier. Below we’ve listed a few to try.

  • Cut down on your email pollution. Wherever possible, try to avoid sending unnecessary, or one word ‘thank you’ emails. If something could be confirmed with a co-worker via a conversation in the office, this will help save energy. Using office tools such as Slack, Teams, and Basecamp is also a good alternative to sending an email as these tend to consume less energy.
  • Use the website Cleanfox to delete and unsubscribe from newsletters and other promotional emails from companies that you don’t read. Downloading an anti-spam tool and regularly emptying your recycle bin and spam folder, will also help you reduce your email pollution.
  • Shut down your laptop completely if you’re going to be away from it for more than two hours and only charge it when it needs the power boost. One quarter of all residential energy consumption is used on devices in idle power mode.
  • Watching online videos accounts for the biggest chunk of the world’s internet traffic – 60% – and generates 300m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Cutting back on using services like Netflix and YouTube as white noise when you go to sleep or stopping video from playing unintentionally on an open browser when you are not watching, could help keep your carbon footprint down.
  • Try to extend the life of your equipment to its maximum. To do this you’ll need to take good care of the device and avoid possible damages. If instead of changing laptop every 3-4 years, you can keep it 6 or even 8 years, you’ll halve its environmental impact. This is also the case for mobiles, internet boxes, and other devices.
  • Lastly, recent research has suggested that leaving your camera off during a video call could cut your environmental impact by up to 96 per cent. So, next time you’re on Skype or Teams, consider if you really need your camera on the whole call, or if just saying hi and goodbye while streaming your video will suffice. The planet will thank you!

We hope you found this blog useful to discover how you can make your internet habits greener. Which was your favourite tip? Let us know in the comments section.

You can also visit our other posts on ‘going green’ in the digital world, here: