Study shows shocking impact of 'photo-hoarding' on carbon footprint

A new study by the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) suggests that the British’s hidden data habits cause higher annual CO2 costs than flights around the world.

Research has found that social photographers (who mostly use smartphones) cause over 355,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year just from unwanted images – the equivalent of the entire Chelmsford population flying to Australia and back.

The IET found that Brits admit they take an average of five pictures for every picture they post online – with 10% taking as many as 10 or more. Doing this over a lifetime would be equivalent to the emissions from driving from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

Now the institution called “Happy Snapper” to remove unused duplicate photos in order to reduce their carbon footprint.

The study found that only a quarter of respondents delete additional pictures they have taken, adding millions of identical pictures to memory every week. And for those who delete their excess images, less than one in six (16%) say they do so for environmental reasons (i.e., to reduce the amount of energy required to power servers used to store our data stores ).

For an average person who takes nearly 900 photos a year, the duplicate, unwanted images that remain in storage alone could accumulate 10.6kg of CO2 emissions annually for each adult in the UK – the equivalent of over 112,500 round-trip flights from London to Perth, Australia.

However, it’s not just social media habits that are harming the planet. With nearly 80% of the population neglecting the environmental impact of our online data usage, “dirty data” habits could tacitly contribute as much to global emissions as international air travel.

According to reports, the carbon footprint of our devices, the internet, and the essential systems that support them account for 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions – comparable to the aviation industry. In addition, it is forecast that these emissions will double by 2025.

Although many people are actively offsetting CO2 to justify exotic travel, according to the researchers, the vast majority (80%) are unaware of the harm that scrolling, snapping, and signing up for that never-read email newsletter is doing to the planet as well due to the fact that it is carbon-hungry energy that is needed to maintain and store data.

The IET revealed some of the so-called “dirtiest data habits” of the British:

  1. Error Deleting Duplicate Pictures from Our Phones (69%)
  2. Use of two or more devices at the same time (almost 60%)
  3. Passive streaming – focusing on another device while streaming TV / video content (52%)
  4. Error when deleting archives from messaging services, e.g. B. WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger (63%)
  5. Sticking to old text messages (56%)

Passive streaming sessions have also been called a waste of data – they add to the most invisible carbon footprints. While almost three quarters of people (73%) regularly stream content via services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, iPlayer or Disney +, over half (52%) admit that their attention is actually on their smartphone and not on what You see They see.

It is estimated that one hour of video streaming creates a carbon footprint of approximately 55g of CO2. With the British spending an average of nearly 40 hours a week watching streaming services and online videos, that’s over 113kg of CO2 over the course of a year – the equivalent of driving from Cardiff to Carlisle, about 295 miles.

However, according to the IET, this is not all bad news. The survey also showed a significant desire for sustainability (71%), with two-thirds (66%) believing that everyone has an individual role to play in protecting the planet from climate change.

Chris Cartwright, Chairman of the Digital Panel at the IET, said: “We are very pleased that the public is increasingly involved in environmental debates. We want people to feel empowered to get involved and make their own contribution to combating climate change and contribute to the journey to net zero.

“So far, a large part of the noise in CO2 emissions has been concentrated on the major polluters – the aviation, transport and food industries – or on costly and disruptive solutions such as solar panels, micro-generation, energy storage with power walls and heat pumps. But the story doesn’t stop here on.

“In our increasingly networked life, the data that we now rely on so much is also associated with hidden CO2 costs. Unsurprisingly, most of us don’t realize that our cloud storage usage requires huge, power-hungry data centers.

“The vast majority of data around the world today was generated in the past two years, a trend that will not slow down. That is why we all have a responsibility to change our habits.

“Deleting unwanted emails and photos, restricting the use of the ‘Reply All’ function, deactivating the automatic playback of podcasts, Netflix or Amazon Prime and even having a ‘video off’ zoom tag – these are all small changes That people can easily make a more sustainable lifestyle online. “

The IET’s top tips to easily lower your data carbon footprint and be more sustainable online:

  1. Delete the Duplicates: Make a habit of deleting all of your duplicated photos – it’s okay to perfect the perfect shot for Instagram, but simply deleting unwanted shots can make a huge difference in your carbon footprint.
  2. Clean up your cloud: don’t forget your cloud storage. Clean them up regularly to save urgently needed data space – and reduce your emissions in the process.
  3. Delete the WhatsApps: Let’s face it, most of the SMS, Messenger Services, and WhatsApps from 2015 probably don’t need to be kept, so do a spring cleaning of your messages and get into the habit of deleting old groups that you no longer use .
  4. Unsubscribe All: If you delete emails from your inbox, consider briefly whether you even need to subscribe to this mailing list. Save space and the planet!
  5. Facial Free Day: Make a “video off” day if you can; When you don’t need your camera for meetings, occasionally turn it off to save data.
  6. Get away from your phone: When you’re watching TV or a streaming service, put your phone away. Maybe even leave it in a different room to resist the temptation to scroll while watching. You will enjoy your show more and reduce your carbon with one simple movement!
  7. Automatic play; off: Switch off the “automatic playback of the next episode” function on your streaming services and use the practical “sleep timer” on your devices if you are listening to music or podcasts while falling asleep. Your cat doesn’t have to listen to true crime or rainforest soundscapes for eight hours!

Learn more about your data carbon footprint and how you can develop more sustainable data habits IET website.

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