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Carbon has a compass

Feb 24, 2023 / 3 min read By Natalie Whittle

The internet has a carbon footprint - a pretty sizable one, in fact, given that each year the web consumes roughly the same amount of electricity as the entire United Kingdom. This figure is forecast to rise steeply towards 2030, while the construction of renewable energy infrastructure will not advance at the same pace. In other words, we’ll use the internet more - and we’ll be using more fossil fuel energy as we do so. There is an environmental consequence to being online.

There is good news, however. At a more granular level in this issue, we can learn and change a lot by understanding the implications of our web-connected location on the resultant carbon emissions.

The first thing to acknowledge here is that ‘device location’ is a knowledge feature built into smartphones and computers that is often (and often rightly) mistrusted for its ability to collect ‘intrusive’ data about our destinations and routines.

In terms of the web’s carbon footprint, location has a different nuance. Where you are dictates the kind of energy mix that your connected device uses to request and send information down the wire. The geographical spread of renewables - wind, solar and hydro power - is uneven. It’s a fixed dynamic that you have almost no control over, since its provision depends on the state and private sector. Denmark, for example, has instigated an advanced programme of renewables, in which it both exports and imports renewable energy to and from neighbouring countries. It has the world’s highest proportion - more than 50 per cent - of electricity from variable renewable sources.

To create a (purely illustrative) example of how this might impact carbon emissions, let’s imagine two office workers in Copenhagen requesting information from two renewables-charged computers to a server in Silicon Valley. Since the local supply of renewables is high, they would collectively have lower emissions than is true for a single worker in San Francisco requesting information from the same server on a computer powered by a fossil fuel-led energy mix.

The distance the information travels is not the most important factor. It’s who supplies your energy and how it is generated that matters most. This is why Neuto is the most precise carbon monitor of its kind: by including analytics on the location of the device connected to a website, we can give the fullest indication of the resultant carbon emissions. This provides a ‘bottom up’ figure that most calculators in this field bypass completely.

Through our page-by-page reports on different urls’ carbon burden, we also provide a constructive framework for change. The information in our Knowledge Guide can also be used to improve the speed to load of respective urls, which will help to decrease the amount of energy the end users consume.

If you’d like to know more about our tools, head to neuto.co.uk