Many consumers have made the switch from in-person work to working from home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this change has cut down on commuting times, it also has meant that consumers are spending a lot more time on the internet while at home.
A new study conducted by researchers from Purdue University explored how consumers can use all of this extra screen time to benefit the environment. According to the researchers, one of the best ways consumers can cut down on their carbon footprint is to keep their cameras turned off during virtual meetings.
“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 researcher Kaveh Madani. “So without your consent, these platforms are increasing your environmental footprint.”
Small changes make a big impact
The researchers gathered internet processing data from several countries around the world to better understand how consumers’ internet habits can influence various environmental outcomes. They looked at social platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Zoom and explored how usage affected carbon, water, and land footprints.
“If you just look at one type of footprint, you miss out on others that can provide a more holistic look at environmental impact,” said researcher Roshanak Nateghi.
The researchers learned that streaming services and online video conferences are two of the biggest culprits in terms of negative impacts on the environment. However, by making simple switches, consumers help reduce the effect of such environmental damage.
They explained that keeping your camera off during a virtual meeting can reduce the carbon, water, and land footprints by 96 percent, and swapping high definition streaming for standard definition can reduce these footprints by 86 percent. Opting against data downloads can also be incredibly beneficial for the environment. Currently, a one-hour video call uses up to 12 liters of water and produces 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide.
While CO2 emissions have hit record lows since the start of the pandemic, the researchers worry about how continued excessive internet usage will continue to affect the environment. If consumers keep up at the current pace, carbon, water, and land footprints are anticipated to increase by the end of 2021.
“There are the best estimates given the available data,” said Nateghi. “In view of these reported surges, there is a hope now for higher transparency to guide policy.”