How to Reduce Your Online Carbon Footprint in 2020?

0. Introduction

In this article, we will discuss the 4 main drivers of online greenhouse effect. Sending email, watching videos, social networks and querying the browser ... you will learn what are the 28 actions you can put in place today to make yourself more green today.

Digital carbon footprint is not a small problem

As you know, the internet sector accounts for 4% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, twice as much as the aircraft sector. By the end of 2025, we expect these emissions to reach 8%..

This online carbon footprint is made up of :

  • our online activity represents 54% of greenhouse gas emissions. If we split the view, 26% are related to the electricity needed to run our hardware, 16% to social networks, 14% to data centers
  • our hardware consumption represents 46% of greenhouse gas emissions. It allows us to go on the internet - we will write more about this in part 2 of the series (still under construction).

“Digital Sobriety”, the new sexy

As you can imagine, there is no simple solution to this problem. Upstream, we have to drastically reduce our favorite online activities. Downstream, we must try to optimize the remainings activities as much as we can.

Digital sobriety is the concept that brings together these new approaches to consumption and these tools that you can use to use less energy.

Let's dive in!

1. Streaming video and music: a trap!

The offer of online services has increased for both professional and recreational uses, some of which are increasingly energy-intensive.

There are two criteria to consider when evaluating a streaming service: the source of energy that powers these services and the way we use them.

They are powered with unclean energy

According to Clickclean, a significant part of our preferred video and music streaming services relies on traditional energy sources.

energy sources from streaming services - tabby.us


This problem is all the more important as the demand for these services is increasing, forcing these platforms to increase their capacity and therefore to demand even more energy.

What are the best practices?

1. use greener streaming services or use more ecological tools

2. encourage these companies to change their energy mix in favour of renewable sources

They require considerable data to work

These are few actions you can take to limit the impact of streaming services on the environment:

3. reduce your resolution: going from HD to 360p is a small gesture, but great for humanity!

4. watch your videos in Wi-Fi instead of 4G - it would consume 5X and 25X far less energy

5. avoid streaming video games as much as possible

6. avoid video-on-demand as much as possible

7. disable the autoplay function that encourages you to watch even more content

2. Social media: go private and green altogether

Social networks are very energy-intensive. Without going back to Twitter, which has a very bad rating in the Clickclean ranking, these platforms are very polluting. Photos, videos, scrolls, history of all your actions, ... everything is stored!

Facebook collects every day more than 2.3 billion photos and videos on all its platforms. The majority comes from whatsapp, then come facebook and instagram. (Source: "What do We Do"?)

Finally, Facebook users produced 645 million kg of CO2 per year, or 645,000 flights from Paris to New-York. That's 269 g of CO2 * 2.4 billion active users worldwide.  

What are the best practices?

8. Share as little information as possible on social networks - in doing so, you also leave less of your footprint.

9. If you do share content, prefer text over images and video content

10. Turn off the autoplay, which is very energy-intensive and creates this feeling of addiction.

11. Minimize the quality of photos and videos prior to uploading them.

12. If you feel like publishing an entire album of your holiday or professional off-site photos, then publish only the main photos. Share the rest via a USB key!

13. Disable metadata (geolocation, bluetooth, etc.)

14. Avoid listening to music on YouTube in the background, you're spinning video for nothing!

15. Prefer to listen to music on hard drive (hi, Ipods!)

16. Use the "files" application (available on the play store) to delete your files. It gives you suggestions on how to save storage and optimize your apps.

17. Put your phone in power save mode - you will consume less battery

18. Use the airplane mode whenever you work. It kills distractions and saves a lot of battery (read more about the concept of fragmented reality on the internet)

3. Emails... Send fewer of them!

1 email would consume as much as a light bulb lit for 25 minutes. People send 293 billion emails a day today - 347 billion in 3 years, a +18% increase.

The problem is that 75% of the emails received per day are spam and 60% of these emails are never opened. So what is the point of keeping them in your inbox?

What are the best practices?

19. Cut attachments as much as possible

20. minimise the number of recipients

21. Delete older emails

22. Unsubscribe from your uninteresting newsletters

23. prefer hypertext links

24. Optimize the size of attachments

25. Store most of your data on local storage - Exchanging data on the Internet is twice as energy consuming as storing information for 1 year.

26. Remove your gmail tabs duplicates. It's happens more often than not. You open gmail on a window, then you your email, you go back to work, then, then 40 minutes later, you want to send another email. Instead of finding the former gmail tab, you prefer reopen gmail on a new tab (much more convenient). Repeat that with with other Gsuite apps, and it's likely to lead to tab accumulation... If you feel you are "too many tabs syndrome" user, you can read our tips here.

4. Browser queries: visually polluting

All the queries on Google represent 120,000 GW, which is the annual electricity consumption of a country like Norway.

What are the best practices?

27. Make the most precise searches possible. The more keywords you have in your query, the fewer the returned websites will be. For example, if you type "tabby" you will get cats. If you type "tabby chrome extension, ecological tool to remove tabs automatically", we hope you find us.

28. Fill in the exact URL in the search bar. This will allow you to divide by four greenhouse gas emissions (ADEME)

29. Avoid reloading pages

30. Block flash animations

31. As Chrome consumes a lot of energy (27 Wh), we recommend that you switch to "green" browsers such as Ecosia or DuckDuckgo or go to Internet Explorer and Firefox.

32. Use tabby to automatically remove all your unnecessary tabs. Not only will working online be more efficient and more enjoyable (clear visual pollution) but it will also save electricity per tab and make your computer battery lasts longer.

To conclude

Thanks to these 32 tips you can now drastically reduce your carbon impact online.

If you want to learn more on how to double down on your personal carbon footprint reduction, jump to part II where we discuss hardware related actions.

Many thanks to "Qu'est-ce qu'on fait?" ("What do we do?"), a French website that did the dirty work to translate the data in nice infographics. All the data collected are from credible sources like the Shift Project, Green IT, ADEME, Statista, Globalwebindex, Locowise, WeAreSocial, etc.