Reducing your carbon footprint online – these tricks fit into every student’s budget

Who would not want to have a carbon-neutral lifestyle that does not cause intensive deforestation, animal cruelty and human rights violations in the supply chain? I am fairly certain that each of us would want that – in theory at least. In practice, however, striving towards such a lifestyle is far more complex than it might initially seem. And it can be more expensive too. 

Consequently, we end up damaging the environment with our consumer choices more often than we would like to admit. Sometimes going to Albert Heijn next to campus is just more convenient than cycling all the way to the Haagse Markt to buy your veggies. And the bread packed in plastic is simply so much cheaper than the bread from Ekoplaza which you can put in your reusable bag. We silence our conscience with the thought that this is the best we can do – after all we live off a student’s budget.

At least it was the best you could do until now. From now on, the Goodwill Committee will share its best tips and tricks on how to go sustainable on a budget. We will share carbon-freindly recipes, DIY tutorials and life hacks with you. And the best part? Living a more sustainable lifestyle will never have been so easy for you because the Goodwill Committee will spend a vast amount of time needed for research for you

 This week’s trick will actually cost you a total of zero cents and approximately five to ten minutes. This is an issue I was made aware of by my mom (mainly because she wanted me to stop watching Netflix and take the dog for a walk). Do you know the carbon footprint you produce online when you stream your favorite series, listen to a playlist on Spotify or even send an e-mail? As the BBC put it watching one YouTube video at home produces as much carbon emission as three old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs. Even the daily newsletters you subscribed to have a more detrimental effect on our environment than you might initially expect. Approximately 20 million tonnes of CO2e are caused only by the 62 trillion spam messages sent and received that year. That is the same amount you would produce if you decided to drive in your average car 1.2 million times around the globe* (both of this is more than unnecessary pollution really). 

But why is that? How are these vast amounts of carbon emissions produced when I just watch something online? Generally, these emissions are the sum of the energy needed to charge your devices and for your WIFI, as well as the networks providing the content and most importantly the huge data centers that distribute the content. That also means that this problem cannot be eliminated by switching to an electricity provider using renewable energy only in your home. The computer servers in the data centers still need to be cooled permanently.

So, what can you do to improve your carbon emission online at least a little? Obviously, I will not suggest to stop watching Netflix and start listening only to the radio or your grandma’s CDs altogether (I would like to keep my friends). But here are some quick fixes that will help improve your carbon footprint online at least a little bit:

  1. Sign-off unnecessary mailing lists to reduce the e-mail traffic overall (this feels way better than a detox juice cure by the way).
  2. Reduce the size of your attachments by lowering the resolution of pictures or put them in a link instead of sending it with the mail itself. 
  3. Make sure that you do not forget any information in your e-mail, so that you do not have to send a second one afterwards.
  4. Mobile phones are more energy efficient than laptops for streaming.
  5. Only stream when you are connected to the WIFI, because that produces less carbon emission than using 3G or 4G as well. 
  6. Finally, install the search engine Ecosia on your web browser to help financing reforestation in countries like Brazil  (approximately 45 search requests are needed to pay for one tree).

All of these changes are of course only a small contribution to solving this global problem. We cannot ‘turn off’ the internet entirely and eventually tech companies and streaming platforms will be responsible for switching to renewable energy in their data centers. While the carbon emissions of such a tiny thing like spam mails add up to vast amounts of pollution, even the smallest consumer choices can have a (positive) impact equally as great on a large scale. You might not change the world by debunking your mailing lists, but all together we can. 

*Our commissioner calculated this number based on the assumption that 135 CO2e = 200 miles in an average car. The exact number is 1,189,897.178 times around the equator. 

If you want to read more about this topic, you can check out the sources we used for this blog post.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2010/oct/21/carbon-footprint-email (Retrieved on February 10, 2020).

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-45798523 (Retrieved on February 10, 2020). 

https://carbonliteracy.com/the-carbon-cost-of-an-email/ (Retrieved on February 10, 2020). 

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