5 positive ways to reduce your internet emissions

Written by Tom Greenwood - August 10, 2018

I’m always looking for ways that I can reduce my carbon footprint and I am also always looking for ways to live a happy life. One of the problems of more sustainable living is that it is often seen as being about compromise and sacrifice. It is my belief that there does not need to be a contradiction between sustainability and happiness, that we do not need to pick one or the other. When we harness the synergy between them, we can have both.

Recently, I have been taking a hard look at how I could reduce my environmental impact from internet usage and I realised that a few things that I am already doing have also helped to improve my happiness. I thought I’d share them here on the blog.

1. Use an advert blocking web browser

Online advertisements are something of a necessary evil for the publishing industry as many media businesses struggle to find viable business models online. They might be necessary for the publisher, but they do have some tangible downsides for users.

Online advertising is yet one more source of information overload, consuming mental energy, and causing us stress and confusion. Not to mention the fact that most advertising is designed to make us buy stuff that we usually don’t need, which is bad for the environment and causes us additional financial and social pressure.

But that’s not the whole story. Advertising scripts on websites are themselves bad for the environment because they increase the size of web pages significantly. A recent example of the EU (GDPR compliant) version of USA today against the US version demonstrated a page size reduction of 90% when they removed the advertising and tracking scripts. This might be an extreme example but it is not uncommon, with news websites often being amongst the worst offenders for bloated ad scripts. The result is that websites with adverts consume more energy and produce more CO2 than those without. An increased page size also translates into slower page load times and accessibility issues.

There’s an easy solution, and that’s to use an ad blocker in your web browser, or to use a web browser such as Brave that blocks adverts and tracking scripts by default. I’ve used Brave on my phone for about 9 months, and it’s already blocked over 2500 adverts and 8000 tracking scripts. That’s a lot of CO2 saved, and a lot of mental space freed up. Plus, I’m now able to access some of my favourite websites such as Electrek on slow connections such as on the train, which is often difficult and sometimes impossible in regular browsers.

For me, the Brave browser has been a breath of fresh air, but it does present the practical and moral dilemma of how publishers will survive without advertising revenue. Some publishers are starting to introduce subscription or donation models for regular readers to show their support, but that doesn’t help the publishers that you only visit occasionally. A potential solution to this issue is Brave’s new micro payment model based on units of attention that will allow readers to contribute financially to the content that they love without being spammed with adverts.  That sounds like a win-win and I hope it works out.

2. Put your Wi-Fi on a timer

One of the best things that Vineeta and I have done to improve our well being is to put a timer plug on our Wi-Fi router. It switches on at 7:30 am and switches off at 9:30 pm This might not seem like much, but it stops us from using any web services when we first wake up in the morning and in the run-up to bedtime. We start the day with a clearer, more creative mind, and end the day with a more relaxed, less distracted mind, resulting in better sleep. I will admit that there are occasions when we override it, but it forces us to make this decision consciously.

On top of that, the router is switched off for 10 hours every day, which I have calculated saves 73 kWh of electricity every year. That’s almost exactly the right amount of energy required to fully charge a Tesla Model S 75D and drive it 334 miles, just from switching off the BT Hub at night! And of course, with all that energy saved comes a significant reduction in carbon emissions.

3. Stop streaming TV

I have to admit that watching streamed video shows on YouTube and Netflix is one of my guilty habits as an environmentalist. Streaming video is one of the most data hungry and energy intensive things that you can do on the web. As an example, a single episode of Blue Planet in HD is about 1GB to download, resulting in about 1.4kg of CO2 to be emitted based on UK electricity. Not only is it somewhat ironic that watching a programme about our natural environment can be environmentally damaging, but Blue Planet was actually broadcast on good old-fashioned terrestrial television, meaning that individuals such as me didn’t even need to download or stream it separately.

Streaming video services such as YouTube and Netflix are designed to encourage binge watching, and although some shows are great fun, and/or educational, it can become addictive. This is not healthy for your quality of mind and can eat up valuable time in your day. Limiting use of these services is, therefore, a good thing for your happiness and for the environment. And if you struggle to cut back, why not try putting a timer plug on your wifi hub?

4. Only browse the web on Wi-Fi

Smartphones are amazing devices, but being constantly connected can take its toll on our mental health.

Sometimes we just need time to think, to observe, or simply to quieten our minds. It is also healthy to sometimes use our brains to think for ourselves, for example, to find directions or make a decision without asking a computer for help.

One way to minimise time online and reduce our sense of being “always on” is to try to avoid using mobile internet data and only use the web over Wi-Fi. This can be easily achieved by switching off mobile data in your phones settings, meaning that it can only access internet via Wi-Fi. Doing this creates natural pockets of your day when you have to think for yourself and enjoy a slightly more analogue experience of life.

Not only is it good for you, but it is also good for the environment, because mobile data is much more energy intensive than cabled internet due to the fact that it’s much more efficient to transmit data through cables than it is through the air.

Caveats and confessions

A small caveat to this is that wifi in moving vehicles such as trains and buses is not cabled wifi. They basically just use mobile data and have an open wifi hotspot that you can connect to, so I don’t think it really counts as wifi in this context.

I am also aware that I have contradicted myself by saying that I read Electrek and other websites on the train. I do this from time to time if I get really bored, but I am aware that when I default to not using the web on the train I actually find myself happier, with time to look at the scenery, to read and to think.

5. Limit or quit social media

There are many benefits to social media in connecting us with others but they can consume huge amounts of our time, are often designed to be addictive, and can have a negative impact on our mental health. Not to mention privacy issues and the manipulation of our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.

Social media sites also consume a lot of energy. The website TweetFarts estimates that one tweet has the global warming equivalent impact of one human fart. Just think about that for a minute. How many farts are you responsible for? Limiting your use of social media or quitting altogether is a great way to free up time, maintain a healthy and independent mind, and reduce your internet carbon footprint.

That’s my top five. If you have other ideas that can help to reduce internet emissions and improve quality of life, you can fart, I mean tweet us @eatwholegrain.