How to reduce your CO2 footprint with audio? 

Nowadays indispensable in our daily lives, no one can imagine stopping using digital technology. However, although its environmental footprint is less obvious than that of factories or vehicles, it is no less present and contributes to global warming. Today, this sector represents 4% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. This figure is likely to double by 2025. For France, this figure is 2% but could rise to 7% by 2040 if no change is made. In addition, about 10% of the world's electricity consumption is used for the digital sector. These figures are already significant, but their growth is exponential, because the digital sector is a sector that continues to grow in use but also in performance! So how can we explain this digital pollution and how to reduce it, especially through audio? We explain you!

The digital sector has an impact on the environment.

How our digital usage impacts the environment

If the internet was a country, it would be the third largest consumer of energy in the world behind China and the United States!

But why is this sector so polluting?

Well, there are many reasons for this. The first and most important factor of pollution is the manufacturing of the different digital terminals (laptops, computers, TVs, tablets...). Indeed, during the design of these objects, dozens of materials around the world are used, including various metals: silver, tantalum, lithium, gold ... to rare earths and ores. Their extraction requires a lot of fossil fuels, water and other different resources.

In addition to their extremely polluting (and ethically disastrous) extraction, these different elements are sent all over the world, to be processed and incorporated into the devices during the different assembly phases. Even before being turned on for the first time, its various components have travelled 150,000 km, i.e. 4 times around the earth!

Let's take the case of a smartphone, about 85% of its greenhouse gas emissions come from its manufacture, which requires the extraction of 82kg of raw materials for an object weighing barely... 200 grams!

The pollution generated by the operation of the Internet network.

This network works thanks to a multitude of cables and equipment allowing to store the data (servers, computers, antennas...). The storage and transmission of this data in the data center also generates a lot of pollution. As a comparison, a data center with a surface of 10 000m2 consumes as much electricity as a city of 50 000 inhabitants.

Emails, for example, are a big source of energy consumption. Today, about 12 billion e-mails are sent per hour worldwide, their electricity production is equivalent to that of 18 nuclear power plants during one hour! In addition, a typical e-mail emits about 4 grams of CO2. Each year, the more than 280 billion e-mails sent therefore release 410 million tons of CO2! 

Audio vs. Video: which one is more environmentally friendly? 

Video streaming represents 80% of internet data flows according to a study by "The Shift Project". This alone accounts for 1% of the world's CO2 emissions, or as much greenhouse gas production as Spain! And given the endless growth of video traffic, this figure will rise sharply in the future.

In total, video streaming on different platforms: YouTube, Netflix, Twitter... but also pornographic sites, generates more than 300 million tons of CO2 per year! 

We were talking earlier about e-mails that are harmful to the environment, a high definition film on a streaming platform weighs 10 gigabytes, that is 300,000 times heavier than an e-mail (30 kb)! Still according to "The shift project", 10 hours of high definition film contains more data than the entire English articles of Wikipedia! 

Audio is much more ecological than video. Indeed, an audio file consumes 1000 times less bandwidth than a video of the same length. The bandwidth being, to simplify, the volume of internet data transferred on a unit of time. We can therefore conclude that audio is much less energy consuming and polluting than video streaming.

How to replace your video consumption with audio consumption?

On YouTube, the number one use is listening to music. However, to listen to music, video is absolutely not essential. And when we know that video streaming is one of the main source of pollution on the web, we should be able to listen to music while turning off our screen. This is currently only possible for members of the Youtube Prime service, which is not free. If this feature was available to everyone, it would reduce the platform's CO2 consumption by 500,000 tons! 

We have seen with containment a consistent growth in telecommuting. One could believe that, given the reduction of commuting, telecommuting is the miracle solution to reduce its impact on the environment. As a reminder, the transport sector represents 31% of the greenhouse gas emissions in France. But it is not that simple. Indeed, teleworking increases the domestic energy consumption by 10% by sending emails, heavy files, using video conferencing platforms... Because of course, teleworking means remote meetings, and therefore using video platforms! And as we have seen before, these are harmful for the environment. 

The greenspector website recently published a ranking of videoconferencing platforms, from the most to the least harmful for the environment. By adding up carbon impact, energy consumption and data consumption, we can see that the three most respectful applications are : Google meet, microsoft teams and Tixeo. So using these applications can already be interesting to reduce your environmental footprint. But to be even less impactful on the environment, the Greenspector website advises to use only the audio functionality of these platforms for your meetings. Indeed, 1 minute of video conferencing in audio + camera emits 0.403 grams of CO2 (or 3.6 meters in a car) and consumes 16.26 Ah, while one minute of video conferencing only in audio emits 0.155 g of CO2 (or 1.38 meters in a car) and consumes 9.84 mAh. Adding video to audio, a session is therefore 2.6 times more impactful on the environment.

Finally, downloading your audio files when you plan to listen to them several times is also a good thing you can do. Indeed, listening to music online is much more energy consuming than listening to it offline. If you really like a song, consider downloading it! 

Digital technology is a sector that may not seem bad for the environment. Indeed, when we surf on the internet or send an email, we don't have the impression to act directly on the eco-systems, as a car or a factory would. But this sector and everything that allows its functioning is very harmful! Streaming video is the most energy consuming use while often, audio alternatives exist! So next time think about it!

Published by LA TEAM EKOO

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