< Previous Subscribe today Next >

The web's impact on the environment

The web's impact on the environment
So, this whole online experience, virtual realm thing is good for the environment, right?

Published: 14 Nov, 2013

The web's impact on the environment

So, this whole online experience, virtual realm thing is good for the environment, right? I mean, we're putting documents, music, movies, pictures, and more up in the cloud every day. That's got to be reducing the impact of generating all of the above, you would think.

Like many of you, that's what we've been led to believe for the longest time now. But is the move toward everything digital really benefiting the koalas and the polar bears - or human beings, for that matter? We're not environmental experts around these parts - though we love the trees, and the Great Barrier Reef, and, well, everything environment.

But we know data. So that's our focus in bringing you 13 surprising statistics about the impact of the web on the environment.

The good

  1. Data centres in the US are generally more efficient in recent years. Web traffic has increased 32 million percent but total energy consumption is only up 200% since 2006
  2. One study shows that downloading an album from iTunes is less than half as consuming of fuel than purchasing a CD at a retail store
  3. 40% of US workers (also the highest concentration of internet users) could work from home, reducing carbon emissions by 53 million metric tons a year
  4. Americans who pay bills without paper save 452,819 trees each year

The sad

  1. Only 2% of American workers actually do so from home
  2. Google's monthly searches would power a freezer for 5,400 years
  3. One Google search produces 20 milligrams of CO2. Google users produce more than 18 trillion searches a year.
  4. That's enough to wash more than 5.5 million loads of laundry
  5. 35 billion minutes are exhausted online each month. Every second of computer use uses 20 milligrams of CO2. Our calculator won't do that kind of math, but you get the picture.
  6. Globally, the IT industry generates an equal amount of greenhouse gas to the airline industry
  7. The average computer generates 40 to 80 grams of greenhouse gases per hour, accounting for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions
  8. McAfee says that the transmission of spam in various forms accounts for enough energy to power two million homes - for a year
  9. According to CNN, the internet produces 20% of all greenhouse gases

So, sadly, the list of bad outweighs the good - at least according to these sources.

It seems that every time you want to check out some cute cat pictures, watch the latest twerking video, or read your favourite blog (yeah, even this one) you're expending some energy and creating some waste.

But we have to compare this to the times when books, for example, were exclusively physical. There has to be some trade off when it comes to the overall impact of the web on the environment.