#Climate101

A sprint to save the planet: how fast can we go?

Learn more about climate emergency & digital pollution as our environmental expert Juan Sotés answers 8 common questions on the topic.

a sprint to save the planet

We are (very) late in our race to save the planet and digital has a huge role to play. Today, sit down with Juan Sotés, our Impact Director & Environmental Expert as he answers 8 questions on climate emergency and digital pollution.

 

 

But first, here’s a short recap of the current (alarming) situation.

Earlier this year, the IPCC published one of their latest report, making very clear that climate change is here and its impacts are being felt beyond natural climate variability. It has caused substantial damages, and increasingly irreversible losses in all ecosystems. Even if we stop emitting carbon to the atmosphere today, the impacts of what is already up there will last for decades (if not centuries) to come. 

Climate change is already moving faster than we are, and this will only get worse over the next few decades, as we stay on a path to cross the 1.5°-2° C warming threshold (we are already over 1.1°C). The call to action is clear: we need to reduce carbon emissions quickly and decisively, “every bit of warming matters, every year matters and every choice matters”. 

For this very reason, it is crucial to consider and reduce the impact of our digital activities, which has been overlooked so far.

 

Now, here are 8 common questions on climate emergency & digital pollution we’ve asked our environmental expert to answer to.

 

 

1. Trying to save the planet really is a challenge… but how much time do we have exactly?

We have 8 years, less than 100 months to cut our emissions in half. How much have we reduced them in the last few years? Almost nothing. The challenge is monumental.

 

2. What is the actual weight of digital in global pollution?

While it’s hard to estimate the full climate impact of the digital world (including materials and energy consumption), studies indicate that its contribution to climate change is already higher than the aviation sector.

Digital climate impacts are significant and they will keep on increasing very quickly if we don’t do something about it. As an example, every year, just in North America, Internet carbon emissions account for 60 million T CO2. It is more than the total emissions of countries like Norway or Sweden.

Those impacts have been addressed in the last IPCC report with more detail than ever before, highlighting the growing awareness about its role in both increasing and reducing carbon emissions. The experts also highlight how important it is to capitalize on efficiency benefits of digital services while avoiding potential rebound effects. Demand surges will require early and proactive public policies to avoid excess energy use.

 

 

3. Aren’t there some sectors that need to be prioritized first to fight climate change effectively?

While electrifying our transportation and buildings sectors, decarbonizing our grids, reducing emissions from our industries and taking care of our forests is definitely urgent, we need to address and mitigate impacts in every sector – digital included. Indeed, as all of our activities have a climate impact, we need to achieve net-zero in all of them to have a chance of limiting our planet’s imbalance.

Estimates suggest that the digital world accounts for 2 to 4% of global emissions, which doesn’t sound like a lot and we can wrongly think that there is no need to act on such a “small” source. This is not the case. Aviation is also only 2% of emissions, Canada only contributes 2% to global emissions, this doesn’t mean that quick and decisive action is not needed. As we said before, every bit of warming matters and every choice matters.

 

 

4. When we click on a website, how are we contributing to global warming?

So, we have done some numbers and every click on a webpage is less than 1 gr of CO2 – which doesn’t really sound like a lot. But, who goes to the internet, clicks once and moves on with their day? We all spend around 7 hours a day online, and it is the cumulative impact that is very significant. 

Every time someone clicks on a website, it generates emissions from all the data center, transmission network and end devices involved in the process. If we account for all the visits a website receives over its lifetime (considering that a website is updated every 3.5 years), the cumulative impact adds up to several T CO2e, reaching hundreds of T CO2e for the sites with more visitors. Thing is, there are already over a billion sites in the world and 250,000 new sites come online every day, on top of video streaming, emails, online games and meetings…

 

5. What is the cause of digital pollution?

Limiting the impact of the digital world is especially significant because it consumes a lot of electricity (currently around 9% of total consumption and expected to double or triple by 2030).

Electricity grids across the world are going to suffer a major shock over the next couple of decades; we need to replace our fossil fuel electricity generators with renewable energy while at the same time increase capacity to provide the additional energy needed to enable the electrification of our transportation and heating systems.

For example, Canada just announced the ban of gasoline car sales by 2035, this is a lot of new EVs requiring electricity added to the system every year! Every bit of help that our grids can get is incredibly meaningful.

 

 

6. What can we do to reduce the carbon footprint of digital?

We need to do the very same as in the real world; all the buildings in our neighborhoods will need to be upgraded to improve insulation and energy efficiency and all new buildings need to be built according to increasingly stringent standards, with the goal to achieve net-zero impact in our cities.

Currently, most of our digital products are leaking energy, click by click, view by view, adding up to great amounts of unnecessary energy consumption. We need to upgrade them to improve our digital efficiency. There are also hundreds of thousands of new ones every day and we need to make sure they are designed following sustainable principles.

 

7. We’ve heard digital can also contribute to mitigate impacts, how come?

Digital has a tremendous potential to contribute to achieving net zero goals at a global scale. The last IPCC report confirms that the digital world can be a lever in decarbonization if developed & governed properly, and has the chance to help the real world achieve net zero emissions on time.

Just as an example, a video call’s emissions are almost negligible if they are avoiding a flight for in-person meetings.

We need to address this problem from all possible angles; developing more energy efficient digital products and applications; building more efficient hardware in a consistent manner with a circular economy (recycled materials, end plan obsolescence, etc.); and implementing more renewable energy generation.

 

8. If businesses want to tackle this now, where do they start?

As always with any estimation of climate impacts, the first step is to get a comprehensive and accurate picture of your digital emissions with an inventory. 

Companies need to start with measuring and visualizing where they are generating the most emissions, so that they can identify where the quick wins are, and what their strategic priorities should be. This is why at footsprint we always start with an analysis of companies’ existing practices. Just like in the real world, the first priority will be to fix the existing.

Then we need to build new standards and practices to impose on the digital products and services we are building now, and incorporate digital sustainability into our development processes. This will minimize efforts later down the road, as emissions avoided will not need to be reduced. Just like in other sectors, sustainability will need to be integrated at each stage of software development processes, not as a final add-on. The earlier companies develop this mindset, the smoother the transition will be once regulations come in place (and they will).

Juan Sotés

Impact Measurement Director at footsprint.

Throughout his more than 10 years of experience in environmental sciences and global warming, Juan has worked in both private and public sectors, and more specifically for the Toronto Atmospheric Fund as carbon and co-benefits analyst. He joined footsprint in order to help the industry accelerate the transition towards digital sobriety. His expertise in carbon measurement and GHG protocols will contribute to develop and strengthen industry frameworks.

We are (very) late in our race to save the planet and digital has a huge role to play. Today, sit down with Juan Sotes, our Impact Director & Environmental Expert as he answers 8 questions on climate emergency and digital pollution.

 
But first, here’s a short recap of the current (alarming) situation.
 

Earlier this year, the IPCC published in one of their latest report, making very clear that climate change is here and its impacts are being felt beyond natural climate variability. It has caused substantial damages, and increasingly irreversible losses in all ecosystems. Even if we stop emitting carbon to the atmosphere today, the impacts of what is already up there will last for decades (if not centuries) to come.

Climate change is already moving faster than we are, and this will only get worse over the next few decades, as we stay on a path to cross the 1.5°-2° C warming threshold (we are already over 1.1°C). The call to action is clear: we need to reduce carbon emissions quickly and decisively, “every bit of warming matters, every year matters and every choice matters”. 

For this very reason, it is crucial to consider and reduce the impact of our digital activities, which has been overlooked so far.

 

Now, here are 8 common questions on climate emergency & digital pollution we’ve asked our environmental expert to answer to.

 

 

1. Trying to save the planet really is a challenge… but how much time do we have exactly?

We have 8 years, less than 100 months to cut our emissions in half. How much have we reduced them in the last few years? Almost nothing. The challenge is monumental.

 

2. What is the actual weight of digital in global pollution?

While it’s hard to estimate the full climate impact of the digital world (including materials and energy consumption), studies indicate that its contribution to climate change is already higher than the aviation sector.

Digital climate impacts are significant and they will keep on increasing very quickly if we don’t do something about it. As an example, every year, just in North America, Internet carbon emissions account for 60 million T CO2. It is more than the total emissions of countries like Norway or Sweden.

Those impacts have been addressed in the last IPCC report with more detail than ever before, highlighting the growing awareness about its role in both increasing and reducing carbon emissions. The experts also highlight how important it is to capitalize on efficiency benefits of digital services while avoiding potential rebound effects and demand surges will require early and proactive public policies to avoid excess energy use.

 

3. Aren’t there some sectors that need to be prioritized first to fight climate change effectively?

While electrifying our transportation and buildings sectors, decarbonizing our grids, reducing emissions from our industries and taking care of our forests is definitely urgent, we need to address and mitigate impacts in every sector – digital included. Indeed, as all of our activities have a climate impact, we need to achieve net-zero in all of them to have a chance of limiting our planet’s imbalance.

Estimates suggest that the digital world accounts for 2 to 4% of global emissions, which doesn’t sound like a lot and we can wrongly think that there is no need to act on such a “small” source. This is not the case. Aviation is also only 2% of emission, Canada only contributes 2% to global emissions, this doesn’t mean that quick and decisive action is not needed. As we said before, every bit of warming matters and every choice matters.

 

4. When we click on a website, how are we contributing to global warming?

So, we have done some numbers and every click on a webpage is less than 1 gr of CO2 – which doesn’t really sound like a lot. But, who goes to the internet, clicks once and moves on with their day? We all spend around 7 hours a day online, and it is the cumulative impact that is very significant. 

Every time someone clicks on a website, it generates emissions from all the data center, transmission network and end devices involved in the process. If we account for all the visits a website receives over its lifetime (considering that a website is updated every 3.5 years), the cumulative impact adds up to several T CO2e, reaching hundreds of T CO2e for the sites with more visitors. Thing is, there are already over a billion sites in the world and 250,000 new sites come online every day, on top of video streaming, emails, online games and meetings…

 

5. What is the cause of digital pollution?

Limiting the impact of the digital world is especially significant because it consumes a lot of electricity (currently around 9% of total consumption and expected to double or triple by 2030).

Electricity grids across the world are going to suffer a major shock over the next couple of decades; we need to replace our fossil fuel electricity generators with renewable energy while at the same time increase capacity to provide the additional energy needed to enable the electrification of our transportation and heating systems.

For example, Canada just announced the ban of gasoline car sales by 2035, this is a lot of new EVs requiring electricity added to the system every year! Every bit of help that our grids can get is incredibly meaningful.

 

6. What can we do to reduce the carbon footprint of digital?

We need to do the very same as in the real world; all the buildings in our neighborhoods will need to be upgraded to improve insulation and energy efficiency and all new buildings need to be built according to increasingly stringent standards, with the goal to achieve net-zero impact in our cities.

Currently, most of our digital products are leaking energy, click by click, view by view, adding up to great amounts of unnecessary energy consumption; we need to upgrade them to improve our digital efficiency

There are also hundreds of thousands of new ones coming online every day and we need to make sure they are designed following sustainable principles.

 

7. We’ve heard digital can also contribute to mitigate impacts, how come?

Digital has a tremendous to contribute to achieving net-zero goal at global scale. The latest IPCC report confirms that the digital world can be a lever in decarbonization if developed & governed properly, and has the chance to help the real world achieve net zero emissions on time.

Just as an example, a video call’s emissions are almost negligible if they are avoiding a flight for in-person meetings.

We need to address this problem from all possible angles; developing more energy efficient digital products and applications; building more efficient hardware in a consistent manner with a circular economy (recycled materials, end plan obsolescence, etc.); and implementing more renewable energy generation.

 

8. If businesses want to tackle this now, where do they start?

 

As always with any estimation of climate impacts, the first step is to get a comprehensive and accurate picture of your digital emissions with an inventory. 

Companies need to start with measuring and visualizing where they are generating the most emissions, so that they can identify where the quick wins are, and what their strategic priorities should be. This is why at footsprint we always start with an analysis of companies’ existing practices. Just like in the real world, the first priority will be to fix the existing.

Then we need to build new standards and practices to impose on the digital products and services we are building now, and incorporate digital sustainability into our development processes. This will minimize efforts later down the road, as emissions avoided will not need to be reduced. 

Just like in other sectors, sustainability will need to be integrated at each stage of software development processes, not as a final add-on. The earlier companies develop this mindset, the smoother the transition will be once regulations come in place (and they will).

Juan Sotes

Impact Measurement Director at footsprint.

Throughout his more than 10 years of experience in environmental sciences and global warming, Juan has worked in both private and public sectors, and more specifically for the Toronto Atmospheric Fund as carbon and co-benefits analyst. He joined footsprint in order to help the industry accelerate the transition towards digital sobriety. His expertise in carbon measurement and GHG protocols will contribute to develop and strengthen industry frameworks.

you might also be interested in:

Our team talks about the importance of connecting the digital and sustainability communities (and the challenge it represents).

Check out our monthly selection of 5 sources from newsletters to workshops, streaming platform and more dedicated to environmental topics.

Discover the results of the first Canadian carbon footprint study of corporate websites.

Meet footsprint, Labelium’s new digital sustainability agency.

don’t miss our latest news and market insights.

footsprint is part of the Labelium group.
Labelium is an agency specialised in international digital performance. We are based in Frankfurt, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Mexico, Miami, Milano, Montreal, New York,  Paris, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Shanghai, Sydney, Toronto, Wien & Chicago
Privacy policy and legal notice

© “footsprint” All Rights Reserved
don’t miss our latest news and market insights.

footsprint is part of the Labelium group.

Labelium is an agency specialised in international digital performance. We are based in Frankfurt, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Mexico, Miami, Milano, Montreal, New York,  Paris, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Shanghai, Sydney, Toronto, Wien & Chicago

 

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Privacy policy and legal notice

© “footsprint” All Rights Reserved