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Surfing the web is not just bad for your brain; it’s also bad for the environment.

Surfing the web is not just bad for your brain; it’s also bad for the environment.

Surfing the web isn't just bad for your brainit's terrible for the en

In the past two decades, online activity has skyrocketed. The pandemic, which has nearly killed a quarter of the world’s population, has accelerated this trend. 60% of the world’s populationOnline, only 8% of the population is now online. While digital usage and accessibility are expected to continue increasing exponentially, few people are aware of the hidden carbon emissions from our daily scrolling and their harmful impact on our planet.

From the device you use to the cabling infrastructure to cellular towers and data centers, all of these contribute to the energy and electricity that’s required to run the Internet. According to BBCCarbon emissions from the Internet and devices and systems that support it make up 3.7% of global greenhouse gases. That’s more than all aviation emissions (2.5%).

As designers working with startups and tech giants, we’ve started thinking about the future of the metaverse, the invisible impact of digital carbon, and ways in which we can encourage leaner practices when surfing the web. Because not all online activity can be considered equal, internet users and ecommerce companies can play a role in reducing digital carbon.

How can individuals reduce digital carbon

Corporations make promises. Google promises to run exclusively on Google renewable energy, while Microsoft is running on “manufactured DNA.”We can all examine our digital habits and make changes to reduce carbon emissions.

● Wi-Fi vs. data: “Using a phone over a mobile network is at least twice as energy-intensive as using it over Wi-Fi,” says Lancaster University’s Mike Hazas. There is no discernible difference between browsing Wi-Fi and data. However, it is possible to consume unknowingly more data than we browse on Wi-Fi. Do it twiceThe carbon can be saved by scrolling or viewing our content over 4G rather than Wi-Fi.

[Source Photo: Apple]

● If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: The embodied energy consumption of a digital device is huge. Eighty-four per cent of the total lifecycle carbon emissions of digital devices are iPhone 13 MaxIt happens before you open the package. You can make a difference by upgrading less often or purchasing refurbished tech.

● Image vs. video: Video streaming accounts for More than halfInternet traffic and is far more carbon-intensive that image or text-based contents. This is why scrolling on TikTok takes twice as much CO2 than scrolling on Instagram for the same duration.

A radical alternative to the idea of digital exclusion is for individuals to completely eliminate all digital interaction. This idea was proposed by The Shift ProjectThe French think tank specialized in digital carbon impact. The Shift Project proposes “Lean ICT,” a transition that combines buying the least powerful equipment possible, changing it as infrequently as possible, and, crucially, reducing unnecessary energy-intensive activities.

We can reduce our digital content consumption and shift towards more conscious digital behavior by understanding and unpicking the effects of all digital systems, devices, and infrastructure.

How can designers create an Internet that is more sustainable?

Although individuals can make an impact, UX designers and software developers as well as marketing teams have a critical role to play in reducing Internet energy use. Through simplified and more efficient online content, sustainable coding is slowly becoming a reality.

Designers and decision makers must encourage digital sobriety and cut down energy-draining features, while ensuring digital interfaces don’t become less attractive.

Data bandwidth is consumed by imagery and video. We can reduce page size and save energy by making images smaller or eliminating them. However, visuals are a key component in the digital age. In an online space that’s flooded with content, we gravitate toward compelling videos and images–think about your use of on-demand entertainment services, online retail, and social media platforms. Equally, we like to consume content quickly–given the choice, wouldn’t you prefer to watch something rather than read it? Videos and images provide an immediacy that text simply can’t compete with.

[Screenshot: Low←Tech Magazine]

The Low-Tech Magazine‘sSolar-powered sites take a unique approach to solar power. They do this by dithering all their images (an image-compression technique that was popular in the 1990s), and then they are transformed into pixelated white and black with a full-color bleeding over the top. This makes them ten times less resource-intensive.

Dutch clothing brand, Dutch clothing brand, shows that color can also make a huge difference. Organic Basics‘ low impact website has minimized the power consumption across all aspects of the website, including carefully selecting muted colors such as grey, green, and cream. These tones emit less light from the LEDs on our device screens, which means they consume less energy.

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What’s the role for brands?

Technology giants and companies will also need to make online products more sustainable. This could be a chance to make the Internet more productive, and not just for energy waste. For example, ads take up a lot of a website and in addition to their carbon footprint, they also contribute to visual pollution that can negatively impact the customer experience. What would a world without ads look like?

The European site USA TodayTo comply with GDPR legislation in Europe, all tracking scripts and ads were removed. This immediately reduced the site’s size to 500 kilobytes from its original 5 megabytes. It still looks the same—there are just no ads. Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine this becoming more widespread, given that ads pay for most of the Internet. For wide-spread adoption, there would need to be a massive shift in business models.

Tech companies might also be able to help users understand the problem better. Our digital carbon footprint is still invisible and difficult to quantify. Can designers and brands make it easier to calculate their carbon footprint? Instead of the “daily time limit” on social media sites, perhaps there could be a “daily carbon limit” that notifies you once you clock up a certain level of emissions. There are currently only a few carbon-tracker browser extensions. CarbonalyserYou can track and visualize your real time usage with a tool called. Next would be to optimize it for mobile usage, and set daily targets.

The government also has a significant role to play and there are obvious failings in current legislation.

During the recent COP26 climate summit there was a lot of focus on digital technologies. Enable routes to combat climate change. Conversely, we couldn’t find any acknowledgment of the carbon impact around digital usage.

Moving forward

How can we make our digital tech and services more carbon-friendly? Near term, we’ll hopefully see an increasing number of businesses reduce their digital emissions through optimization and lean practices. Further on, as we move toward digital sobriety, we could see behaviors that once felt commonplace–like double-screening Netflix or scrolling through TikTok–as wasteful. Could video that’s deemed unnecessary one day feel like a waste of resources? In 2030, will a three-minute video of a cat “playing” the piano on YouTube be the equivalent of the demonized single-use plastic bag?

Seymourpowell’s CMF strategists are Katie-May Boyd, and Caroline Jacob.

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