Our Hidden Carbon Footprint

I’m delighted to welcome Green Outlook customers to share their sustainability stories! If you want to write a guest blog at Green Outlook and share tips on sustainable living, plastic free shopping or a Green Outlook product review, drop me an email. – Fiona.

Ruth Young shares a deep passion for sustainable living, sustainable fashion, ethical working conditions, reducing our carbon footprint and for her lovely pet dogs. I had the pleasure of working with Ruth in a previous role in an Irish Renewable Energy company. Ruth has a deep experience in the energy trading market and today she shares her knowledge and passion for a sustainable Ireland with us. Ruth acknowledges the carbon footprint of the Internet and the unique position Ireland is in to combat these emissions through our wind energy opportunities.

The Carbon Footprint of the Internet

For a lot of people, working from home has become the new normal, our professional lives shifting more into the virtual world. For example, by lunch time today, I have replied to a couple of emails, sent some chat messages, had a video call, googled a couple of things all whilst streaming music. My evening will more than likely revolve around the virtual world, possibly an online exercise class followed by an evening of Netflix whilst scrolling through social media and chatting to friends on WhatsApp.

I’ve barely left the house and yet I’ve still managed to contribute to my carbon footprint due, in part, to the energy needed to run my devices and wireless networks. A less obvious contributor to my online carbon footprint, but even more energy intensive, are the data centres and servers needed to support the internet and store the content accessed over it.

Video Streaming has Lasting Impact

It is estimated that approximately 4.1 billion people, or 53.6% of the global population, now use the internet. A typical business user creates 135kg of CO2 from sending emails every year. This is the equivalent of driving 320 km in a family car. The carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet and the systems supporting them is estimated to account for about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions which is similar to the amount produced by the airline industry globally. These emissions are predicted to double by 2030.

One of the drivers of this increase are video streaming services, watching online videos accounts for 60% of the world’s internet traffic, generating roughly 1% of global emissions. This is because, as well as the power used by devices, energy is consumed by the servers and networks that distribute the content. To give you an idea of the impact of video streaming, by the time the hit 2017 song Despacito clocked up 5 billion plays, it had consumed as much electricity as Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic put together in a single year.

Ireland Has It’s Part To Play In Data Storage

Individually there are actions we can take to reduce the carbon footprint of our internet activity, like limiting “reply all” responses, unsubscribing from newsletters we no longer use or doing a bit of a spring clean of our cloud storage. As a nation we have a unique role to play in the climate impact of data centres.

Worldwide, data centres consume about 2% of all electricity but in Ireland, the data centre capital of Europe. It is expected that up to 29% of all electricity demand in Ireland will be from data centres by 2028. This will be unmatched by any other country in the world and will complicate Ireland’s response to the climate crisis.

Ireland is already one of the worst offenders in Europe for carbon emissions, missing our 2020 targets by not making any material reductions to our overall emissions in the last 10 years. The new programme for government is looking to make up for this by targeting a reduction in emissions of 7% on average every year until 2030. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, it is critical that the climate impact of the growing data centre industry in Ireland is considered and demand is directly met by renewable sources. Many of these ‘big tech’ companies have pledged their commitment to using 100% renewable energy and fortunately, Ireland’s wind levels are also exceptional, giving us a strong natural resource. Currently, however there is little involvement from the government in how the data centres meet their energy requirement, meaning any actions by the tech companies are voluntary.

Renewables Provide Hope for Green Future

Although it may feel like we as individuals have little influence in the matter, public pressure on these tech companies as well as on the Government can drive meaningful change. Whilst changes in our personal behaviours may not get us all the way to our 2030 emissions target, we can make it clear to the policy makers that we support this goal. The future is digital, it’s inevitable, and whilst the increasing number of data centres will see Ireland’s electricity demand grow, we can minimise the increase in emissions if we get the policy right.

Green Outlook Strives to Have a Minimal Carbon Footprint

Thanks Ruth for sharing your insights with us! Green Outlook strives to keep it’s carbon footprint low, however it’s definitely an area I need to work on both in the business and personally. I have emails that could be deleted and photos that don’t need to be stored on the cloud. One of the ways I have begun lowering the potential carbon footprint of Green Outlook is by using small file sizes on the website images. I hope you found this blog beneficial and it will help you further reduce your carbon footprint and offer a talking point for when you next speak to your local TD.

About Ruth Young

I’ve always had an interest in the natural world and as I grew up and realised the negative impact we humans were having on it (mainly thanks to David Attenborough) I wanted to do something about it. At home, I’ve been trying to make more sustainable and ethical choices and professionally I’ve been working in the energy industry for almost a decade. In that time I’ve seen the industry rapidly transition from fossil fuel led to renewable led. In my current job at a research and management consultancy for the energy market my main area of focus is in providing clarity for new technologies looking to enter the market. Ireland is making great strides in the renewable space but we have the potential to go so much further and do some really exciting things and I hope that’s what will keep me busy for the next 10 years.