Is Wifi Eco-Friendly? How much CO2 does it REALLY take to watch Euphoria?

Most of us are mindful of our carbon footprint— we recycle, shop sustainable brands, and tote around our reusable bags, but what about the adorable #DoodlesofInstagram post we just sent to our friend? Sharing a pup pic might not seem that big of a deal, but each time we connect to WiFi, it starts a chain reaction that’s costly to the environment. When we factor in our daily emails, Zoom calls, Tinder swipes, Seamless orders, Wordle, music, and so on, we’re accounting for 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions, which is more than the aviation industry, and this is on track to double by 2025. 

The internet is like a hot dog (and bear with me here), but it’s a lot more enjoyable when we don’t know what goes into it, and before we get into WiFi’s environmental impact, we need to understand what happens when we use the internet. Each time we visit a website, click a link, or listen to a song, we connect our Wireless Server Provider (WiFi) to external servers that store and process data. Servers, put simply, are physical hard drives that are stored in data centers.

Still here? Okay, good, let’s carry on. Each website or company that hosts websites has a data center. Google, for instance, currently has 23 data center locations worldwide— Meta and Microsoft have 19 and 200, respectively. These centers, lined with thousands of active servers, are energy minefields, and in the US alone, they account for approximately 2% of our total electricity use. 

What, exactly, is generating such a high yield? Of course, we have our typical overhead costs — heating, electricity, etc., but it’s the servers themselves that are fueling the energy consumption. Google estimates that each time we search on their website, we use as much energy as illuminating a 60-watt light bulb for 17 seconds and use 0.2 grams of CO2. Not too bad, until we consider how many people asked Google “How old is Nate Jacobs actor from Euphoria”—now it’s more like we left the kitchen light on for an entire week. And if that’s the pollution from just one Google search, can you imagine the impact of our daily digital consumption? 

The average bitcoin transaction uses over 1,700 kWh of electricity, the carbon footprint of a spam email reaches 0.3g of CO2, and streaming the final episode of Euphoria costs us another 36g of CO2

We don’t need to fixate on every ‘like’ we give out on Instagram— double-tap and support your friends– but we DO need to be mindful that every time we use the internet, we are burning fossil fuels and producing greenhouse gasses. To help reduce some eco-guilt and also to just live a more conscious lifestyle (that goes beyond just turning off the tap while brushing your teeth), here are a few quick tips to reduce your carbon footprint: 

  1. 1. Turn off devices. Just like lights, turn off devices when they’re not in use, and don’t leave Netflix on in the background.  
  2. 2. Unsubscribe from spam emails. Instead of just deleting spam emails, go the extra step by unsubscribing. We save time, CO2, and stress! 
  3. 3. Limit screen times. As always, limit screen times and social media usage. Try reading a book or going for a walk. 
  4. 4. Maybe hold off on buying those NFTs or Bitcoins
  5. 5. Support companies who care. Caring for the environment can feel defeating like our habits alone cannot change the world. But supporting companies who care is a great way to make an impact. Meta, which prides itself on running on net-zero emissions, is committed to developing solutions to lessen its footprint, such as building wind farms or investing in climate change research. Similarly, Google has vowed to be a carbon-free company by 2030 and continues to communicate with sustainable collations to clean up its practices.

In the end, it’s about imperfect consistency rather than inconsistent perfection.  We don’t need to check every social media app when we’re bored on the subway, but that also doesn’t mean that you can’t send your friends that video of the golden-doodle trying to walk in its rain boots.