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Ran Sanghera for IONOS

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How Big is the Internet’s Carbon Footprint?

A little fun with math and carbon dioxide

Not all devs like math like I do, but humor me for a quick thought experiment. If you multiply 4 grams for your average email by the 4.6 billion people using the internet on a daily basis, then factor in the data center infrastructure that keeps us online, plus the carbon emitted from the manufacturing of the device you’re reading this article on right now, you’re left with a pretty sizable number. And that’s just for a technology so few of us are fans of.

The environmental impact of the internet is much bigger than most people think. The infrastructure supporting it and the devices we use account for 2–4% of total global greenhouse gas emissions alone. This has led many to draw comparisons to the airline industry, prompting an increased focus on digital sustainability.

Your choices matter

Still skeptical? I don't blame you. When most people think about their environmental footprint it usually involves deciding whether to drive or fly, or concerns the food they eat, or any other thing they can influence themselves. Rarely do people think about the energy that’s powering the gaming or cloud server they’re using, or what happens to their old laptop or smartphone. And I think it's probably safe to say that almost nobody thinks about the carbon footprint of one single email.

All of it matters, though. It might seem overwhelming, but there are things you can do to actively reduce your digital footprint. The companies you choose to work for and purchase from can also play a role.

How to reduce your digital carbon footprint

  • Choose a hosting and cloud provider committed to renewable energy

  • Donate, sell, repair or recycle your IT equipment once it approaches the end of its service life

  • Dim your monitor to 70% to reduce energy consumption by 20%

  • Unsubscribe from unnecessary newsletters and save 4 grams of CO₂ per email

Imagine the impact we would have if every developer did just one of these things every day. We might just make the world a better place for future devs.

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