How much does digital pollute? The Carbon Thumbprint and digital emissions

Digital transformation has many advantages that also generate positive effects in the fight against climate change: working remotely, for example, reduces travel and thus CO₂ emissions. But the use of digital devices causes CO₂ emissions much more than we think; these “digital emissions” are called Digital Carbon Footprint or, in some cases, also Digital Carbon Thumbprint. The problem is that we are still not very aware of them.

Carbon Thumbprint: The Impact of Digital on Climate

So, what is the impact of digital activities on climate and environment? According to a study by IAB Italy and YouGov, most Italians think that only devices such as smartphones and computers “pollute”, while few consider the impact of sending an email or doing video-streaming. This research involved over 1,000 respondents in the period between October 29 and November 2, 2021 revealing that the environment is the third priority for Italians after health and work. Despite this, the awareness of the close relationship between digital and environmental impact is reflected in the choice of whether or not to change their smartphone, tablet, PC with a more powerful model. More than 53% of respondents, in fact, declare to replace their smartphone or tablet with a new one even if the current one is fully functional.

Streaming video: consumption and environmental impact

According to another study conducted by Purdue University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), published in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling, one hour of video conferencing or streaming is equivalent to a carbon dioxide emission ranging from 150 grams up to one kilogram, requires two to 12 liters of water and can consume an area of land equal to an iPad Mini (about 20 x 13.5 cm).

Data traffic, in some countries, has increased by 20% during 2021; continuing at this rate, to neutralize the emissions that will be created, it will be necessary a forest of 115 thousand square kilometers, equal to five times the surface of Lazio, and an amount of water, intended for the cooling systems of data centers, equal to that used to fill 300 thousand Olympic swimming pools.

Actions to reduce and offset our digital emissions

Here are some actions to reduce and offset our digital emissions and limit our Carbon Thumbprint:

  • Limit streaming: video streaming causes 75% of digital data traffic.Downloading, on the other hand, requires much less energy compared to streaming
  • Listen to songs as audio instead of streaming them as YouTube videos or watch the video at a lower resolution
  • Use your devices longer: the average lifespan of a smartphone in Switzerland is only two years, that of a TV is five years
  • Empty your email inbox to reduce data storage
  • Use WiFi networks instead of mobile
  • Adopt a tree with WOWnature
Changing one’s consumption habits is fundamental to limit emissions and fight the climate crisis: we know that it is not easy to change lifestyles and start acting differently from what we have always done. For this reason it is essential to offset our emissions by contributing to reforest our planet, planting a tree. We have many reforestation projects, in Italy and around the world: adopt or give a tree with WOWnature.