During a normal working day, you will probably send emails, do at least a couple of online searches, send countless messages on WhatsApp, and take part in one or two video conferences. Later, in your free time, you use social media, visit some informational sites, listen to streaming music, and watch movies or TV series on Netflix or other platforms. At first glance, these all appear to be sustainable behaviours. After all, compared to the past, we avoided wasting paper for letters or newspapers, and we also eliminated the use of plastic for CDs and DVDs. Moving in the digital, and therefore immaterial, world of the Internet gives the impression of having zero impact on the environment. In reality, things are very different. Behind ethereal terms such as "cloud" lies the much more commonplace reality of the physical infrastructure of the Internet, made of endless cables, colossal data centres, routers, switches and everything you need to bring the Internet to (almost) the entire world.
The staggering amount of energy needed to power the infrastructure and use of the Internet leads to more "digital pollution". The entire ecosystem that revolves around the Web, including the devices used to navigate it, causes 3.7% of our planet’s total greenhouse gas emissions. This is greater than the amount of gas emissions generated by the airline industry. Just the data centres where our emails, social media posts, and bank, company or institutional data (and much more) are stored consume something like 200 terawatt hours per year, just under 1% of all energy consumed globally. Although a single email consumes very little (about 4 grams of CO2 if there are no attachments), this small sum must be multiplied for the more than 300 billion emails that are sent and received every day all over the world. The same is true for the 3.5 billion daily Google searches, and in general for all the more trivial activities carried out by 4.1 billion Internet users (53.6% of the population), which in the Western and developed world are each responsible for producing around 80 kilos of greenhouse gases per year.