Understanding Your Digital Emissions & The "Cloud"

Beneath the convenience and accessibility of the 'Cloud', there's a hidden cost in the form of substantial environmental impact.

Understanding Your Digital Emissions & The "Cloud"
Photo by Andras Vas / Unsplash

For many, the term 'the cloud' conjures images of an intangible, nebulous realm where data lives.

In reality, 'the cloud' refers to physical locations called data centres, which play a vital role in our increasingly digital world.

These enormous digital 'libraries', packed full of powerful servers, work tirelessly around the clock to store, process, and transmit data.

Whether you're scrolling through social media, streaming music, or accessing files on Google Drive or Dropbox, you're tapping into these data centres.

However, behind the convenience and accessibility of the cloud, there lies a significant environmental impact.

The Power Hungry Cloud

Data centres significantly impact climate change due to their high energy consumption.

This high energy consumption often comes from non-renewable sources, contributing to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

In fact, the digital world now surpasses the Aviation industry when it comes to energy use.

The fact that a typical digital advertising campaign can produce as much carbon dioxide as over 160 round-trip flights between Paris and New York underlines the pressing need for action.

How does the Cloud impact climate change?

The 'cloud' may not be as ethereal as it sounds, but understanding its tangible impact is an essential step towards a more sustainable future.

Energy Use: Data centres use a lot of electricity to power the servers that store and process data. This energy is often generated from fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned, contributing to global warming.

Cooling Systems: To prevent overheating, data centres require cooling systems, which use a substantial amount of energy. This increases their overall energy consumption and, consequently, their carbon emissions.

E-Waste: As technology advances, older servers in data centres often become obsolete and are replaced. This generates a significant amount of electronic waste, or e-waste, much of which isn't recycled properly and can harm the environment.

It's not all doom and gloom

The good news? Large companies are now taking steps to make their data centres more sustainable.

Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Google are all scaling clean cloud solutions, including the use of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and better e-waste recycling programmes.

How does this impact small businesses? Well, for starters, businesses using Facebook or any cloud-based services, the transition to renewable energy directly affects their Scope 3 emissions – the indirect emissions in their value chain.

With Facebook's commitment to renewable energy, the carbon footprint related to your Facebook business activities would be considerably lessened.

Small Changes, Big Impact

How can small business owners, Founders and remote workers help to lessen the environmental impact of their digital emissions?

Here are easy to execute ideas that will make a difference now...

Measure how much energy your website uses

Created by Wholegrain Digital, this website carbon calculator is designed to both educate and inspire people towards a greener internet.

The tool is user-friendly and easily accessible, providing an excellent starting point for small businesses looking to understand and reduce their digital footprint.


Switch to renewable hosting

Renewable hosting refers to web hosting services that are powered by renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, hydro, or geothermal power.

Transitioning to has the potential to make a significant impact in mitigating climate change. If you're in the UK, Krystl come highly recommended by small biz sustainability champions. https://krystal.uk/green

Turn off your camera

Did you know that by turning off your camera during video calls, you can reduce your carbon emissions by 95%?

This simple, yet effective, energy efficiency solution is at the heart of the "Camera Offset Project," an initiative from brand experience agency McKinney.

McKinney's Brand Experience team created a website and graphics that people can use as their Zoom background when they turn their cameras off, helping to save energy and resources while combating Zoom fatigue.