Despite its downfalls, 2020 had certain upsides for our environment, with the events of the year resulting in a record drop in carbon emissions. However, the pandemic-motivated shift to working and actually living from home still presented significant environmental impact, due to how data is transferred and stored around the world.
It was the year of binge-ing new series, of watching film premieres online, of re-watching the many seasons of the old classics. It was the year of video conferences, where many of us were introduced to Zoom as a household item, a necessity.
Countries around the world have reported to at least a 20% increase in internet usage since March last year. If this continues through to the end of 2021, this level of increased internet traffic would require a forest of about 185,443 square kilometres — that’s over 4 million trees.
A new study, conducted by researchers at Purdue University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that one hour of video calls or streaming emits 150 – 1,000grams of carbon dioxide, requires 2-12 litres of water and in turn, demands a land area about the size of an iPad Mini.
The findings, published in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling, is the first to analyse water and land footprints associated with internet usage and its impact on carbon footprints.
So what are we to do about it? Well, leaving your camera off during a call can actually reduce these footprints by 96%, while streaming content in standard definition (720p) rather than HD (1080p), can result in 86% reduction, the researchers estimated.
There’s your excuse to leave your camera off during those perfunctory calls (score!), but for energy usage that’s unavoidable, you can always look into green providers. For your electricity, switch to Powershop, a 100% carbon-neutral power company. For your internet, switch to Belong, a carbon-neutral internet plan.
And for those emissions that remain, you can always (and absolutely should) offset your emissions. Companies like Greenfleet allow you to offset your household emissions, or cover an entire year’s worth of emissions for $365.