Opinion | Why every bit matters

Opinion | Why every bit matters

On the carbon emissions impact of technology consumption

Dear community,

as you know, a big part of each of our own's carbon emission footprint is stemming from the mere choices we make every day as consumers. Every day, we're faced with many lifestyle decisions that may have bigger or smaller impact on the global environment. We may choose to take a flight as opposed to a train; we may choose sustainable clothes over fast fashion. In this article, we want to give food for thought on the importance of rethinking our consumer behaviours in relation to the global internet. Xayn has recently become an emissions neutral company, which is why we're using the opportunity of sharing some information on the environmental impact of the internet in itself. In part due to the intangible nature of the web, the internet may not be the most obvious driver of global carbon emissions. That may also be the reason why this environmental issue is not discussed so often in the public. But the truth is that with increasing access to and consuming of technology, the footprint of this industry grows more and more every day. Therefore, we want to create awareness on that pressing matter. We've created the campaign 'Why every bit matters', and are sharing hereby some background information with regards to that campaign.

On the carbon footprint of the internet  

Let's start with a couple of numbers and facts along the entire supply chain of the internet. Today, 4 billion of the population worldwide use the internet. This equates to four percent of the global carbon emissions. The internet's emissions are set to double by 2025, that's in a mere 4 years! This footprint stems from a variety of complex factors that come together and shape the internet: It starts with server farms needed to make this technology alive and ends with the many devices we as end consumers have at home. An iPhone 11 for example equates to 82 kilo carbon footprint. In part, this can be attributed to the natural resources the phone is made of. Of the 83 stable chemical elements, up to 70 of them can be found in a smartphone. It is metals which make smartphones so versatile; each may contain up to 62 different metals. The mining of those metals is highly controversial. What is more, today, only five percent of mobile phones are actually recycled.  

Now, lets move on to what brings the internet to your end devices. Cellular stations are a big contributor, in form of network signal. One cellular base station over its ten-year life consumes 1½ houses-equivalent of electricity. And with a bigger internet need comes the need for more stations. For instance: with the upcoming 5G technology, many more stations will have to be build (25,000 to 60,000 in the United Kingdom, alone!). That's a lot of hardware needed to make the 5G dream come to live – and a lot of electricity!

And speaking of electricity, this is the essential fuel of the web. Electricity flows through everything associated with being online: All server farms, business offices, and even fuels all the many devices you as end consumer may have at home, sometimes even multiple times a day.

Now, we could move on talking about the offices, heaps of engineers, service providers and marketeers that bring to live the millions of businesses associated with the web (which is for example where almost 80% of our very own emissions come from). What is important is that by now, you will have probably understood the complexity associated with the value chain of the internet quite well. And one thing becomes clear quickly: The more things are happening online, the more people are online, the more content we consume online – all these components lead to more emissions produced throughout this process. The supply chain is long, and the internet bases much its existence on short-lived content. Which means, we need to produce more content more often, etc. We as end consumers therefore hold a certain responsibility in that regard. Many Big Tech players, like Netflix and Facebook, have also recognised their corporate responsibility in that regard. They have made statements of having managed to reach net zero emissions, but while it would be a seemingly easy option to support only zero emissions companies, it is equally important to look into the fine print. There's a caveat to it, the solution is not that simple. For instance, many companies merely buy renewable energy certificates to match fossil-generated power it is forced to rely on if the electricity grids do not have enough renewable electricity available to satisfy demand. Some may call this greenwashing; others say this type of trade-in is merely a modern selling of indulgences.  

What you can do today

After this fact bomb, here are some actual good news: NOW is the time to act, and you can do many things, and they're simple to do, too. Little goes already a long way in terms of improving one's own footprint and rethinking your habits online will add perfectly to your mix of actions in reducing your footprint. If you're already opting for meatless meals, take the train or bike more than the car, travel less global and more local -- that's a big step in the right direction. But in the same regard, turning a blind eye towards our mindless online habits seems simply wrong. At this stage of the climate crisis, every single consumer choice matters. The big ones, the little ones. That includes the tech we use every day and the way we use the internet and is the very core of what the 'every bit matters' campaign is all about. Is it about rethinking our online addiction and replacing it with meaningful interaction, like reading the news, and opting for players that have a better carbon footprint.

Here are five simple tips you can apply today to make your devices greener, and to reduce your digital emissions footprint:

  1. Educate yourself on the energy consumption and carbon emissions of all your online tools.  You will quickly find that you can clearly distinguish between companies that are actively taking measures to contribute their share, and those who don’t. The rule of thumb is simple: Stop using the ones that don't.  
  1. If you work in the tech industry, drive an internal project to make your company to look into partners like Planetly to become net zero emissions. And they won't move, you always have the option to go somewhere else where they share a similar value system as you.
  1. Keep your devices longer. The longer the live-time of each phone or laptop, the less needs to be rebuild. And if a device is broken, opt for repairing instead. And make sure your broken devices get into an appropriate recycling circle, don't just let them 'rot' in your storage at home.
  2. Clean up your devices. Software and data junk are energy and data drainers. This means more storage needed in the cloud, more data outflow and charging more often. So clean up everything you don't use or need.
  3. Spend less time on the screen. Go out into nature, read a book. The simple change of spending less time online is not just good for the environment, but also for your health and mental well-being. A nice side effect: Less time spend online will keep you from finding things online that may lure you into consumption on other ends (travel sites, online shops, etc.)

Transparency: Wha we're doing about our footprint

Privacy the biggest challenge of our time next to the climate crisis according to Apple’s Tim Cook. The next logical step for Xayn was to focus on understanding the company’s impact on the environment. Together with Planetly, we took a closer look at all relevant activities across our operations. Adding up all emissions, Xayn had a footprint of 93t in CO2 equivalents in 2020. Since we already introduced the first climate action measures in 2019. This includes a no-fly travel policy for all employees within its home market Germany and a paperless office. As the majority of Xayn’s emissions for 2020 were caused by procurement and external service providers, the company is already taking action here and consciously favours sustainable providers even if it involves a higher price point.

Offsetting is a relevant stepping-stone to have an immediate impact on unavoidable emissions. We therefore decided to offset the company’s entire carbon footprint from 2020 by supporting a climate project in Indonesia. The project in Borneo protects 64,500 hectares of carbon-rich peat swamp forests with a high biodiversity from being turned into palm oil plantations. On top of that, the project makes sure to support local communities by providing training in sustainable agriculture, and biodiversity and wildlife habitat. We're very proud to announce that Xayn is now emissions neutral. This means that using Xayn will decrease your carbon footprint, one browse at a time. That's good for the planet, and therefore good for you 😊

That's our contribution to a world of zero emissions. What about you? Are you already considering the environmental impact of your phone consumption? Join the discussion online under #EveryBitMatters.

Happy offsetting

Felix