A study from a US-based University has claimed that leaving a computer’s camera on during video calls can increase carbon emissions. According to researchers at the Purdue University, an hour of videoconferencing or streaming can emit 100 to 150 grams of carbon dioxide. It also uses up to 12 litres of water and an area of land around the size of an iPad Mini. The study also claims that streaming videos in standard definition instead of high definition may result in an 86 percent reduction of your carbon footprint.
The study is the first of its kind and investigates how internet infrastructure affects water and land use, not just carbon emissions. The study estimates the carbon, water, and land associated with each gigabyte of data used across platforms like YouTube, Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, online gaming, and surfing the web. The researchers came to a conclusion that indicated more video = bigger carbon footprint. “Banking systems tell you the positive environmental impact of going paperless, but no one tells you the benefit of turning off your camera or reducing your streaming quality,” said Kaveh Madani, a researcher who led the study at Purdue University. Madani said that tech platforms are increasing your carbon footprint without your consent.
The study says that processing and transmitting data that reflects your face to your boss’s living room takes a lot of electricity. The data centres that process and store this information are slowly becoming more efficient but producing energy will always have an effect on carbon, water, or land footprints.
The researchers found out that the web platform that you use and the country you live in have an impact on the carbon emissions, water consumption, and land usage. Germany, for example, had a much higher water and land footprint that other countries despite being a leader in renewable energy.
The researchers at Purdue University also said that focusing on one type of footprint can make us miss out on others that can provide a more holistic look at the environmental impact. They also said that these estimates are rough and they are only as good as the data available from internet service providers. The researchers, however, hope that this study will draw people’s attention to the potential environmental consequences of our increased internet usage during the COVID-19 pandemic.