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The internet is a real energy guzzler. Knowing this, master students Kim, Roos, Hanne, Bart and Julia looked at this issue for their last week of their sustainability project. The answer seems simple: use the internet less. Yes, but then what?
Take the data that the students normally save in the cloud. This takes up more space than the same file that you upload. A Google upload is one-and-a-half times bigger than the original file while the same upload at a data centre is three times bigger. Why? The back-ups.
Is an external hard drive a better option to store data safely then? Unfortunately the answer is not that simple. “If you need to use an external hard drive often, it would be more efficient to use a cloud service,” says Bart. “But if it’s solely to store your archive, such as photos and files that you don’t use often, then put them on a hard disc.”
Streaming music and videos is actually the equivalent of downloading, except that downloading is just once and streaming is continuous. If you want to listen to a song more than once, so the students discovered, it’s better to download it. Furthermore, a streaming service like Spotify does not stop, like a record, CD or cassette tape does. Before you know it you’ve streamed music three hours long.
‘It is hard to change habits’
You can cut down on the energy that emails consume if you are careful. If, for example, you do not use your email as an archive. The students also discovered that it is better to use email and messaging with end-to-end encryption. This means that the application itself cannot read the message and this consumes less energy.
You can control and reduce your own data, music and email. The amount of energy a website uses and where it is hosted is more complicated. Data centres themselves do not know how much energy one website consumes, say the students. The Green Web Foundation browser app can help assess how sustainable or non-sustainable a website host is, but it too does not have access to all the information. “That needs to change,” says Bart. “Only then can you see which websites are green and which are not.”
End of the project
Having looked at food, hygiene, clothing and packaging, internet usage was the last theme that master students Kim, Roos, Hanne, Bart and Julia looked into. And what lessons have they learned? “It was hard to change habits,” says Hanne. “You really need to take the time to change. I pay more attention now to packaging and whether vegetables are in season.” After initial reservations, Roos is now eating less meat. “I didn’t think that I would really do it,” she says. “And I’m now a lot more environmentally aware. I really didn’t know that data had such an impact.” And Bart? He believes that you should not be too strict. “If I stop myself doing things, all I’m doing is putting up barriers. For me personally, it works better to turn it around – I’m allowed something, but I choose not to do it.”