13.4 Electronics: The Carbon Footprint of Social Media

Author: Shang, li

ABSTRACT: Climate change is one of the most important challenges of our century, and its relevance to Carbon Dioxide (CO2) has been widely confirmed in scientific research. Despite the rising attention on this issue, many human-related activities have a hidden negative impact in terms of CO2 emissions.


In today’s society, the internet and smartphones are now everywhere, and their diffusion and penetration are growing in every corner of the world, even considering different socio-economic factors. We can see how Internet users have grown in the last ten years. How many hours do people spend on Netflix a day during quarantine? Staying home actually can create equally as much of carbon footprint than pre-pandemic. With the phone in our hands, everything is one click away, from ordering food, streaming shows and movies on different platforms, googling for our paper and browsing through social media, have you ever thought of how much carbon footprint we are creating while we are at home? We upload a lot of selfies on social media to maintain our likes and fans. A picture might not seem that much, but if we put it online, it goes through several networks and data centers that actually require plenty of electricity to function; this process releases a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere.

However, these are just a small percentage of the Internet’s world. Websites, forums, bank transactions, e-mails, video and gaming platforms, clouds and many other online services also need plenty of energy to function, which increases the environmental impact in terms of CO2 emissions exponentially. At the same time, the Internet of Things (IoT) has been changing our relationship with objects in ways never imagined before, connecting previously offline devices and generating an enormous flow of data, which silently contributes to climate change. If our demand for online services keeps growing at this pace, it is likely that sustainability of electric consumption will become a massive problem in the short future.

What are some ways to cut down carbon footprint in our day-to-day life? Well, delete your data, whatever you do online, information is stored in data centres, which require vast amounts of electrical and cooling power, for example accessing a video or image online has been estimated to generate up to 12 grams of CO2 per minute. Delete any old accounts emails and tweets. Declutter your data as well as your carbon footprint. Cut back on emails. Sending an email produces about four grams of CO2, that’s equivalent to driving a car just 24 meters. About 300 billion emails are sent every single day, emitting 438 megatons of CO2 per year or about half of the internet’s carbon footprint. So, unsubscribe from brands and mailing lists you no longer engage with. Stop hitting reply all and try to discourage unnecessary emails in your workplace.

Try to record your carbon footprint, such as using CarbonAnalyser. CarbonAnalyzer is a new browser extension that allows users to see the climate impact of your Internet activity. It goes further than simply calculating your online carbon emissions and reveals which websites or apps are consuming the highest amount of electricity on your device. The add-on also enables users to compare the greenhouse gas emissions from your internet searching to the emissions generated by other sources, such as charging a smartphone or driving a car.

If we keep this in mind while we use our computer, we can together help reduce carbon footprint. You might think it isn’t a lot but when we add them up, it will bring out great results.


Boyce, Tammy, and Justin Lewis. Climate Change and the Media. P. Lang, 2009.

Ho, Sally. “How Much CO2 Does Your Social Media Habit Cost The Planet? New Tool Visualizes Emissions From Internet Activity.” Green Queen, 19 June 2020, www.greenqueen.com.hk/browser-extension-carbonanalyser-visualises-emissions-from-internet-activity-c o2-social-media/.

Netflix Media Centre (2017, December 11). 2017 on Netflix – A Year in Bingeing. Available at: https://about.netflix.com/en/news/2017-on-netflix-a-year-in-bingeing (last visited: 15/5/2019) Facebook (n.d.).

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