The Environmental Cost Of The Internet
June 05, 2020
by Dynamic Servers
Environment Laptop

Over the past few years, more people within our society have become aware and concerned about the impact of human behaviour on the environment. Many of us are now making conscious decisions to reduce our carbon footprint. This may include using public transport, shopping locally, reducing long-hall flights, buying seasonal produce and minimising food waste, to name just a few. But how many of us have stopped to think what our use of the internet costs our environment?

The speed of development and growth of the Internet has been astonishing. Our lives have transformed over the past three decades as the ability to get online becomes a fundamental need of businesses and a staple in most homes. We take it for granted that we can access anything we could ever imagine online via our smartphones, tablets, computers and even smart speakers.

At its core, the Internet is a source for vast amounts of information. We now turn to Google where we would once turn to Encyclopedia Britannica. And that information has to be stored somewhere else. Not on traditional paper but in large, vast computers called servers. These pieces of hardware are the backbone to the Internet. And they are typically not environmentally friendly.

The servers are stored in data centres. Some are modest, some are colossal. The largest data centre in the world is The Citadel in Nevada and provides 7.2 million square feet of data centre space. Luckily for the planet, The Citadel is already powered by 100% renewable energy. But the same can’t be said for many of the other unimaginably vast data centres, such as the 6.3 million square feet space, The Range, in China which opened in 2016.

Data centres require a vast amount of electricity to function. Not only do the servers need to be powered 24/7 to keep the information they store accessible, but these gigantic warehouses must be kept in almost arctic conditions to prevent the machinery from overheating. And the majority of electrical energy, in most countries, continues to be a product of burning fossil fuels. Therefore, the carbon footprint of these data centres is huge.

Each time you use Google to perform a search, a tiny amount of energy is required, producing a small amount of carbon dioxide. That’s not much but 4.1 billion people use the Internet, and there are over 2 trillion searches on Google per day. In order for Google to generate the results you need, your browser sends a request to the relevant servers to pull together all of the information and present it to you. It’s this summoning of an endless amount of content from all corners of Internet which needs power. The content of the internet, stored in data centres, must be accessible at all times and delivered into the palms of our hands or at our fingertips in milliseconds. After all, that’s what we expect of the internet. But what does this immediacy mean for the planet?

Here are some numbers to really put the environmental cost of the internet into perspective:

  • The Internet (and the systems which support it) accounted for 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018
  • The commercial airline industry, globally, contributed 2.4% of CO2 emissions
  • An estimated 1.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions are emitted through the manufacturing and running of digital technologies per year
  • 300 million tonnes of this was from streaming videos – we’re looking at you, Netflix and Amazon Prime who together account for about 100 million tonnes!
  • Data centres account for 2% of the country’s electrical use in the US
  • A standard email has a carbon footprint of 4g
  • An email with a photo or large document attached has a carbon footprint of 50g
  • The average business employee will generate 135kg of CO2 emissions through emailing every year

And here’s our favourite statistic:

According to OVO, if every adult in the UK sent one less ‘thank you’ or ‘received and actioned’ email per day, it could save 1,6,433 tonnes of carbon emissions per year. This is the equivalent of taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road!

While it is important for us all to be aware of how our little actions impact the environment and make any changes we can to reduce our carbon footprint, as businesses, we can always do more. Dynamic Servers set about to try and minimise the environmental cost of the Internet in a more effective and long-term way. We offer website and email hosting via our own servers, powered by 100% renewable energy. Based in Hertfordshire, our servers are powered by the wind and are proudly eco-friendly.

 Switching your website and email hosting to us doesn’t mean you should send as many emails as you can possibly fit into a day or build websites with thousands of unnecessary pages. But it does mean you can rest assured that no environmental harm is coming to the planet because of your company’s digital assets. Now that’s a good feeling.

We can’t control where other websites we visit are hosted nor whether the energy used to host them is generated in an eco-friendly way. But as a business owner, you can control the carbon footprint of your website and emails. To find out more about our hosting services, get in touch with Dynamic Servers today.