Your Teams-meeting has a larger footprint than you think

You might think that our impact on the environment has reduced significantly now that we work from home more often. After all, we no longer drive our polluting cars every day. However, things aren’t that simple unfortunately: the environmental footprints associated with Zoom, Teams and Google Meet are larger than you think. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to the problem: turn off your camera more often.

photo Fizkes / Shutterstock

Research conducted at four American and one British university has shown that streaming services such as Netflix, HBO and Videoland are among the apps that pollute the most. That’s not a problem you can pass on to your employer. However, video meeting apps such as Teams, Zoom and Google Meet come in second place. And there’s an obvious reason for that: the video element. One hour of streaming or videoconferencing can emit between 150 and 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide, depending on the service. Moreover, that hour also uses 2 to 12 liters of water and a land area the size of an iPad Mini. For comparison: a car emits about 2,344 grams of carbon dioxide when it burns one liter of gasoline. Of course, not everyone travels to work in their car, but the study into the environmental impact of videoconferencing does provide a clear comparison as far as emission is concerned. And with all the hours we spend streaming, that footprint might increase significantly.

Increasing awareness

The use of internet involves several factors. The electricity that provides the internet with power, with all the associated carbon, water and land footprints, aren’t the only things that impact the environment. Storing and sending data also requires electricity and water to cool the servers with.

“The aim of the paper is to increase awareness,” Maryam Arbabzadeh, postdoc at MIT Energy Initiative and co-author of the paper, says. “It’s really great that we managed to reduce our emissions in certain sectors, but we see an increase in internet use, and this has serious consequences.”

Camera off!

Using Netflix without a camera could be somewhat problematic, but are you looking for ways to reduce the impact of your next meeting? Then you should turn the camera off. American and British research has shown that turning off the camera could potentially cut your ecological footprint by up to 96 percent. We spend a lot of time on Teams at TU/e because of corona, so there’s much to be gained when it comes to this.

Users of Netflix can also improve some things: switching to standard definition rather than watching in high definition significantly reduces your ecological footprint. Streaming in high definition four hours a day during one month leads to up to 53 kilograms of CO2 emissions.

However, streaming in standard definition would lead to a footprint of only 2.5 kilograms of CO2 emissions per month. The researchers believe that it is important that more people become aware of this significant difference. “Few people will adjust their video quality downwards on their own initiative, certainly not when they aren’t aware of the significant environmental benefits.”

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