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The Green Leaf March 4, 2021

Congrégation de Notre-Dame

To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system. (Laudato si’, paragraph 111)

Digital pollution

The usefulness and benefits of new technologies are undeniable and, more than ever, because of the pandemic, we are using the Web for our work, studies, shopping, and leisure activities. While all these activities using computers, cell phones, tablets and the Internet may seem immaterial, they have a very real environmental impact.

The digital sector represents:

  • 10% of the world's electricity consumption
  • 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions (as much as the aviation sector)
    • 53% of these emissions are Internet-related (data centers and network infrastructure)
    • 47 % of these emissions are related to consumers' computer equipment

The environmental impact of our digital consumption encompasses several aspects:

The life cycle of the devices: It takes more energy to manufacture the devices than to operate them as such, considering the energy required to extract the raw materials, manufacture the parts, transport them, assemble them, and transport the finished products for distribution. Not to mention the environmental pollution caused by the mining activity to obtain the required metals and by the electronic scrap generated by the obsolete devices, of which only 20% are recycled.

The use of electricity: In Quebec, because of hydroelectricity, the powering of electronic devices has less of an impact than that generated by our navigation on the Web because of all the equipment used to transport and store information, which is in different countries and uses different sources of electricity, sometimes produced with fossil fuels.

The use of the Internet: All actions carried out on the Internet (searching, listening to videos or music, sending messages, etc.) necessarily result in energy consumption and, consequently, the production of GHGs. For example, sending an e-mail, without an attachment, produces about 10 g of CO2. Worldwide, online video viewing alone produced more than 300 million tons of CO2 in 2018.

Messages stored in an email inbox, storing photos and music in the cloud are constantly using servers in large data centers and consuming energy. This is called dormant pollution.

While major companies in the digital sector have made a commitment to power their data centers 100% with renewable energy, this commitment is not widespread.

Greenpeace has created the Clickclean website that rates applications (from A to F) and lets you know which ones rely most on green energy.:

As the number of Internet users, and the associated energy consumption, is set to reach 5 billion individuals in 2025, it is important to be aware of and think about our own use of digital services.

Here are a few things you can do to fight digital pollution and reduce your carbon footprint

  • Clean out your email inbox: empty your trashcan, delete unwanted and heavy emails.
  • Unsubscribe from newsletters that no longer interest you.
  • Avoid sending large attachments to multiple recipients; instead, when possible, drop the documents on a local server or in a share box.
  • Think about turning off the camera during teleconference meetings; audio is often sufficient!
  • Limit the viewing of videos as they consume a lot of energy; use downloading instead of streaming whenever possible and disable autoplay in the settings of the applications you use.
  • Bookmark the websites you visit the most in your Favorites to avoid using a search engine.
  • Type directly in the address bar, rather than in the search engine box, to find a page you have already consulted.
  • Limit the number of tabs open at the same time in your browser, because each open tab consumes electricity.
  • Prefer to use the WiFi network when using your smartphone.
  • Extend the lifespan of your computer equipment; going from 2 to 4 years of use for a tablet or a computer improves its environmental balance sheet by 50%. Think about giving them away or selling them when they still work and you need to change them, and recycle them when they no longer work.


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