The easiest climate action you can take this holiday


Image: Marie Martin on Pixaday

Expect to be sitting around a lot this Christmas? Then why not use the time to cut your digital carbon footprint. If we all did it the impact could be staggering, discovers TTL’s Juliet Oxborrow

When we think about cutting our carbon footprint, we might think about driving less, flying less or making our homes more energy efficient. But how many of us think about the impact of what we do on our phones, laptops and other devices?

I’ve only relatively recently realised that the collective energy expended to send email, hold Zoom meetings, watch Netflix and simply save stuff ‘in the cloud’ is staggering. And that’s before we get onto constantly having to recharge  our phones and other gizmos.

Here are some crazy stats from various sources:

  • Digital technologies now emit 4% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and their energy consumption is increasing by 9% a year (The Shift Project)
  • Sending 65 emails is roughly equivalent to driving 1km in a car. Global email usage generates as much CO2 as having 7 million extra cars on the road. (
  • If every Brit sent one less thank-you email a day, we would save 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year – the same as 81,152 flights to Madrid (Ovo Energy)
  • Streaming online content (such as Netflix) accounts for 58-60% of internet traffic and generates 300 million tonnes of CO2 a year, roughly 1% of global emissions (The Shift Project)

Of course, digital technologies are also helping to cut greenhouse gas emissions (holding a meeting by Zoom rather than everybody driving to it by car is clearly going to burn up less energy. Sending a physical letter generates 29g of carbon on average compared to 4g for a text-only email).

But using power just to store stuff we don’t look at or to use digital features we don’t really need is ramping up our energy consumption to stratospheric levels.


“You’ve got (less) mail”

So if you do find yourself at a loose end this holiday – here are a few total painless and almost effort-free steps that can make us all feel like better climate citizens.

  • Clear out your inbox – All those emails we don’t get round to deleting are being stored in giant data centres around the world that require vast amounts of energy (and water) to function and stay cool. So spend an hour or two on the delete button. As well as your main inbox, try to remember to empty ‘junk’ and ‘trash’ folders regularly too.
  • …and your phone – Those 1000s of photos and downloads I keep meaning to edit? They’re all eating up power. A quick cull during the gazillionth viewing of Love Actually might at least make me feel I’ve achieved something useful…
  • Deactivate social media notifications – Notification e-mails from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter etc often just duplicate information you’re getting via the app anyway.
  • Use your energy efficiency settings – Reducing the brightness on your phone, minimising the time it switches to sleep mode, and turning off ‘auto-play’ features can sharply cut its power use – and even extend its life.
  • Cut down your subscriber lists – Receiving newsletters, alerts and member offers that you constantly ignore? They all gobble up energy both to receive and store. So go through them and click that ‘Unsubscribe’ button.

Plus a few wholesome habits to get into in the new year:

  • Don’t always ‘Reply all’ – Every email to EVERY recipient uses 4 grams of CO2 (or more than 10 times that if it has fancy attachments) so think who you really need to respond to.
  • Switch off your camera on video calls – Once you’ve said ‘Hello’, agreeing to switch off video can mean everyone in a meeting can cut their carbon (okay – the Christmas family Zoom call can be an exception…).
  • Download rather than stream – Streaming video and music directly from its source has been estimated to generate 75% of global data traffic. Downloading video or audio files is (apparently) much less energy-intensive. If you do need to stream, switch to lower-resolution.
  • Don’t leave devices recharging overnight – Keeping your phone switched on and plugged in means it’s constantly using power to keep you charged at 100%. Charge up then switch off while you sleep.
  • Turn off your devices whenever you won’t be using them for a couple of hours or more – and remember that sleep mode still uses energy.

And finally…

However efficient we all aim to be, devices still need power and storage. So plug into an energy provider that uses renewable sources – and a ‘cloud’ storage provider that’s committed to using green energy to run its data centres.

The world’s appetite for all things digital is only going to grow and account for an ever bigger slice of the carbon emissions pie. So let’s not make a bunch of unread emails the thing that propels us into climate armageddon. Happy Holidays!


1 Comment


    Brilliant info thanks for sharing with us ….


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