Internet Consumption and the Environment

We have previously spoke about the impact of technology on the environment, but what about digital technologies, and more specifically, the internet?


Our internet use continues to grow and collectively we spend a vast amount of time online whether it be streaming, scrolling, or searching. It’s easy to think of the internet as purely virtual and although many of us associate the internet with dematerialisation, the internet is made up of an entire network of cables, servers, and data centres.


The environmental impact of global information and communications technology is much greater than most of us realise. A study done by the Boston Consulting Group found that the internet is responsible for around 1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. This is around 2% of global emissions, which puts its carbon footprint equal to that of the aviation industry’s fuel emissions.


Data Centres


Data centres consume a huge amount of electricity. Whilst some are pushing towards renewable energy sources the majority of electricity used currently comes from fossil fuels. This means that data centres across the world will vary in their carbon emissions, with some being much higher than others. Current estimations put data centre consumption at 200 terawatt hours (TWh) each year, which is more than the overall energy consumption of some countries.


data centre for internet


Just like your computer heats up after using it, data centres produce a lot of excess heat, which means cooling equipment is required. This of course consumes more energy but if waste heat is reused then the overall energy use and waste from a data centre is reduced.


To ensure people can access their data and the internet whenever they want, data centres must be running 24/7 which demands a huge amount of energy.


Your Digital Carbon Footprint


Every time we use digital technology, whether it be using an app, sending files or messages, or browsing a website, data is transferred between devices and servers. Even though our individual consumption levels are relatively small, when we take into consideration that there are over 4.6 billion internet users, this quickly becomes a substantial amount of energy used.


There are things you can do to reduce your digital carbon footprint:

  • Delete old emails and files
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists that you don’t read or utilise
  • Use Google’s cloud, it uses 87% less energy than other storage methods and Google is already environmentally friendly
  • Reduce your internet usage when you can
  • Use phones or tablets for quick google searches rather than a laptop
  • Reduce phantom energy use by unplugging devices
  • Delete apps you don’t use anymore


A typical website page produces around 6.8 grams of carbon emissions each time it loads, which is roughly the same as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea. Having a look at your website and hosting it in a data centre that uses renewable energy can help to reduce carbon emissions.



While internet consumption and traffic continues to increase, so does its efficiency, meaning there is hope for the future to reduce or manage the carbon footprint from digital technologies and the internet.