The idea of a carbon footprint is nothing new, and if you’re someone who cares about the future of our environment, you might be tired of hearing about carbon footprints by now. Carbon footprints are a complicated subject because, on the one hand, they provide an excellent visual and mental representation of the pollution created in our world. On the other hand, the idea of the carbon footprint is said to have been created in order to take public focus away from the large corporations that make up the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions!

However, unless more significant structural changes like the Paris Agreement happen in the next few years, corporations will continue to be the leading cause of pollution in the world, and there’s little we can do as individuals to change that. The good news is that we don’t have to try and make the change alone! By educating ourselves and others about climate change and ways we can reduce the damage of global warming, we can start to make a shift for the better.

Through your climate education, you can learn about the many causes and culprits behind climate change, including the topic of this article; the internet. Yes, you heard us correctly — your smartphone, laptop and Netflix binging have a carbon footprint too. Just like you, me, and most other human-related things on this planet, the internet contributes to climate change, and only by learning about it can we take steps to correct it.

Keep reading to get a full breakdown of the internet’s carbon footprint, how it affects you, and what we can start doing to change its impact on the environment. Buckle in!

Carbon Footprints and Carbon Emissions

An ever-present goal of the sustainability community is to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. By calculating their emissions of carbon dioxide and other carbon products into the atmosphere, we can figure out roughly how much anyone or anything contributes to the global total of emissions. This is the basic principle behind a carbon footprint.

But what are carbon emissions anyways, and how is the internet involved?

Carbon Emissions Explained

When we’re talking about carbon emissions, we’re generally talking about the human-made emissions of carbon dioxide, though there are many natural sources as well. Human carbon emissions have upset the natural balance that once existed in the environment, resulting in an overabundance of CO2 that is trapped in the atmosphere, which in turn has led to climate change. While the main carbon culprit is the burning of fossil fuels, other sources of carbon emissions include deforestation, transportation pollution, and electricity generation.

Naturally, the goal is to reach net-zero carbon emissions, or basically, a point where the amount of CO2 created is equal to the amount of CO2 that is removed from the atmosphere. Reaching this point will almost certainly depend on a significant transition to renewable energy and getting rid of fossil-fueled vehicles, but decreasing our general energy consumption could also play a big role in turning the tide!

This is where the internet and its carbon footprint come into play.

The Internet, Carbon, and You

Looking at it from an outside sort of perspective, it can be challenging to see how the internet is contributing to climate change at all. If everything is “virtual” and online, then how can it make a physical difference to the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere?

Unfortunately, just because we can’t easily see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. For instance, every piece of the device you’re reading this on (tablet, phone, laptop, etc.) needed to be manufactured before you could use it to surf the world wide web. The manufacturing companies that make the technology also have to ship that technology worldwide to tech companies, distribution centers, and stores.

From there, the tech is bought and shipped to customers, either in person or over the internet, which utilizes ground and air transportation (which primarily uses fossil fuels). Finally, when the technology gets to the customer, you use electricity to power that technology.

Even before you turn on your computer to use the internet, there has already been plenty of carbon generated and let out into the world, and yet, it doesn’t stop there. Every unique Google search produces small levels of greenhouse gases because of the total energy required for all of the servers that information is stored on. Similarly, every web page and link you click generate small levels of carbon dioxide, as well as every email you send.

In the end, it’s practically impossible to escape the carbon-intensive methods that we currently use to generate electricity, so anything done using that electricity will also partially contribute to global temperatures rising.

Don’t lose hope, though, as the internet only makes up a small portion of climate change per year. Of the roughly 1.4 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases produced per year, the internet only makes up about 3.5%. We’ve also seen energy-consumption-based carbon emissions decline in the United States as of late, as energy efficiency is on the rise. Hopefully, the rest of the US carbon emissions by year can follow a similar trend.

How You Can Help

While most climate change work still needs to happen on a large scale, any contribution, no matter how small, can help. Try a few of these internet habits to cut down on your internet carbon footprint:

  • Turn off your power strips whenever they aren’t in use.
  • Limit movie and video game streaming when possible, as these forms consume the most significant amount of energy.
  • Dim the brightness of your devices (which can also help save your eyes).
  • Utilize your technology for as long as possible before moving on, and recycle your old technology.

Eventually, with all of our combined efforts, we can start to positively impact climate change.

Green Shipping, Made Easy

At Manifest Commerce, our mission is to make the shipping industry as eco-friendly as possible. We’re doing this by overhauling supply chains from top to bottom and upgrading everything from packaging to warehouses. We have a zero plastic policy in place for all of our packaging materials and promise carbon-neutral shipping solutions to all of our clients! Join us as we try to make an actual difference in the world, one package at a time.