O2 reveals how 'spring greening' your digital life can slash carbon emissions

  • Digital technology has kept business moving and communities connected this year, but heavy use can have a big environmental impact
  • To help, O2 has developed a series of small changes we can all make to cut our carbon footprints and ‘spring green’ our digital lives
  • Tips include cutting out unnecessary video calls, Marie Kondo-ing your digital storage, and saying no to doomscrolling, as well as a host of tips for office workers to take back to work

After a tumultuous year that has seen British families and businesses come to rely on digital technology more than ever, O2 has mapped out a series of easy to adopt hacks, tips and tricks to help people make more environmentally friendly choices in their everyday lives. It forms part of the O2vsCO2 campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the actions we can all take to fight CO2 and build a greener future.

Working with IC&CO and carbon foot-printing specialists One Point Five Degrees, O2 has identified some of the biggest culprits that are helping contribute to our carbon footprints. To help people adopt greener habits, O2 has mapped out easy tips to help everyone make small changes that will add up to a big impact.

O2’s Green Tech Tips: 

  1. Don’t default to video: Mix up your schedule of back to back video calls with walking meetings and good old-fashioned phone calls to help avoid Zoom fatigue and reduce your carbon impact
  2. Flex appeal: For those who can, embrace flexible work to reduce the carbon impact of the daily commute.
  3. Banish printing: Avoid returning to printing documents when you’re back in the office
  4. Spring clean your digital life: to remove unnecessary or duplicate files from cloud services
  5. Go dark: Switch on dark mode and limit pop-up notifications to help you save on screen time and avoid energy drain on devices
  6. Death to doomscrolling: Avoid mindless social media scrolling where you can
  7. Standby Player One: Only livestream your best moments, and make sure you’re switching to more efficient stand-by settings
  8. Accessorise to protect your devices: Hold on to your mobile phone for as long as possible, and purchase screen protectors and cases to protect your devices from damage
  9. New life for your device: Recycle devices when you are ready for an upgrade, and consider donating them to schemes like O2’s Community Calling programme to help connect the digitally excluded

Tracey Herald, Head of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at O2, said: “In the wake of the pandemic, and with concerns about climate change now coming firmly into view, our customers are asking what more they can do to tackle the climate crisis. But for many people, just knowing where to start can be the biggest challenge. Last year, we helped our customers save 1.4 million tonnes of carbon through our products and services. We hope that these easy tips and tricks help people make eco-friendly digital habits an everyday part of their lives.”

Don’t default to video calls

The conversation around burn-out culture has evolved over the past year, with homeworking introducing the new phenomenon of Zoom fatigue. But back-to-back video calls are not just draining for homeworkers – they are also wearing out the planet. A two person Zoom call lasting an hour each working day has a carbon cost of 170kg per person over the course of a year – giving you the perfect excuse to get your teams mix it up and swap video calls for a good old-fashioned phone call.

Video calls are vital in the modern workplace, but teams should focus on a quality, not quantity, approach to meetings. Setting agendas, encouraging audio-only meetings so colleagues can “walk and talk” outside, and only including essential people on video calls when they do take place will all help reduce the carbon impact of working from home, whilst giving employees valuable time away from the screen.

Embrace flexible working

Though some will be clamouring to return to the office, a hybrid work week looks set to become the norm as many of us embrace a more “work from anywhere” philosophy. Beyond revolutionising what the modern working week looks like, the move to flexible work could be the key to significantly reducing our overall carbon footprint. For example, O2’s previous research has shown that just one day a week working from home for the UK’s workforce (who could work from home) would reduce travel by 37 billion miles, and lead to an annual saving 7 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, with this doubling for two days a week.

To put the potential savings in perspective, a one day a week reduction for commuting travel is the equivalent of the entire annual footprint of Lancashire. Or the equivalent of 133 return trips to Mars – which could be our new commute if Elon Musk has his way. So, when it is time to go back to the office, continuing to work from home, at least part time, should have a net positive impact on the planet.

Stop needless printing

Another bad habit we can hopefully quash for good post-pandemic is needlessly printing tons of documents. Working remotely has shown we can embrace document sharing with success. Using shared cloud services rather than sending attachments on emails also helps offices make environmental gains, and is far better than printing, which causes waste and can cost up to 20kg of CO2 emissions over the year (based on printing a six-page document each day). Considering the office population of Canary Wharf, around 120,000 people, then the reduction in printing could add an annual saving of over 2 million tonnes of CO2 or the entire annual footprint of Manchester.

Spring clean your digital footprint

Marie Kondo had it right. If it doesn’t spark joy, it goes – and we should adopt the same principle to our virtual storage as we would our cupboards. Services like Dropbox and iCloud store our files in multiple data centres across the world and are always on. If each of us removed just three photos from our cloud servers, that would save a combined 11 Mt of CO2 across the world – the equivalent of Panama’s carbon footprint. So delete the selfies, embarrassing photos, and files gathering dust in the cloud to clear out your digital storage and save on carbon.

Switch off excessive notifications to avoid energy drainage (emotional and electrical) from doomscrolling

Now that we’re emerging out of lockdown, it’s time to leave the obsessive doomscrolling behind. Many of us became more reliant on our devices during lockdown, doomscrolling news about the pandemic or spending more time on social media to pass the time was a regular occurrence while we were stuck in our homes. Though tempting to click through every news article and prompt, device notifications are responsible for the 80 or so times that a heavy smartphone user will pick up their phone each day, and each time you unlock your device you’re adding to the energy drain.

Using dark mode and reducing the number of notifications to cut down on endless scrolling will lower your smartphone’s footprint, as well as providing the added bonus of improving your concentration and sleep – and reducing your screen time.

Scroll responsibly and avoid celeb account deepdives

Given the ever-increasing quality and megapixels of smart phone photos, even a simple selfie or social media pic is now around 5 Mbytes. Now imagine this photo being shared across your friends on social media, consuming energy across the internet for both the storage and transmission as that image is distributed to your followers. On its own, for your 150 followers, this isn’t too bad. But if you’re a celebrity with millions of followers, it becomes an issue….

Mindlessly scrolling through celeb social media posts is having a greater impact than you may think. Take an A-list celebrity, for example. Some have well over 200 million followers on some platforms, generating 600 terabytes of traffic per post. In fact, if you tally up 250 posts each year from a major celebrity, this amounts to 1375 tonnes of CO2 emissions – that’s equivalent to Antigua’s total annual carbon footprint.

It’s important to make sure the time you’re spending on social media is conscious and bringing you joy. By cleaning up your feed, you’ll help take control of your apps and ensure you’re only following the people you actively enjoy hearing from, with the added bonus of reducing your carbon impact as well as improving your wellbeing.

And while you’re overhauling your feed, why not consider following some of the brilliant climate campaigners using social media to mobilise people around the climate crisis?

Only livestream your best gaming moments, and level up to efficient standby mode

Internet service providers have seen game related traffic increase by up to 75% over the last year. Streaming service Twitch saw their UK usage almost double (+83%) since the lockdown began.

Unlike our smartphones and the latest TVs, games consoles are very energy hungry. The latest consoles, the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series S use over 200 watts while in use and a twentieth of that when in standby. This amounts to 25kg carbon emissions in standard use (assuming a UK average of two hours per day). One easy thing to do is to enable the efficient standby mode available on the latest consoles, which will bring standby energy usage down to 0.5 watts. This isn’t a default setting, so make sure you go in manually to enable it.

And remember, though live streaming your gameplay on livestreaming platforms may be a great way to show off your gaming moves, it will add the equivalent of streaming a movie to your emissions, which will be multiplied by your viewers. In January 2021 alone, there were 2 million hours of streams on a popular streaming platform, and if you have a following of 320,000 viewers streaming in high resolution that will come in at 1 Gbyte an hour, your footprint begins to rival that of a major celebrity’s post on social media.

Next time you’re on the hunt for some gaming content, why not check out the growing movement of climate scientist gamers using livestreaming to answer people’s top climate change questions?

Invest in ethical accessories to keep your devices for longer…

But when it comes to our devices, usage is small percentage of the carbon impact. For every year you keep your device past the average of 2.5 years, you are greatly reducing the emissions from its manufacturing and shipping. If your phone is getting tired then it might be worth investing in a new battery, which can dramatically add to its life. And to prevent any unfortunate accidents, make sure to invest in a good (and ethically designed) case and a trusted screen protector to help avoid the need for uneconomic and wasteful repairs or replacement.

…and when you’re ready for that upgrade, make sure you recycle or donate your device

And when you are ready for that next phone upgrade, make sure you recycle your device through schemes like O2 Recycle to ensure you aren’t contributing to tech waste. Or better yet, you can do some good with your old phones by donating them to help the digitally excluded to get connected. Through O2’s Community Calling programme, in partnership with charity Hubbub, O2 is on track to donate 10,000 connected smartphones and free data to vulnerable individuals across the UK, including those who are home schooling. To donate your device, visit hubbub.org.uk/communitycalling

O2’s Greener Network Ambitions

Businesses must lead the charge when it comes to tackling the climate crisis, which is why O2 recently set out its continued commitment to be one of the UK’s leading responsible businesses in its latest Responsible Business Blueprint. These commitments include its Greener Network ambitions, supported by O2’s partner the Carbon Trust, to reach the goal of becoming a net zero business by 2025, while working with supply chain partners aiming to reduce carbon emissions by 30% in the next five years. O2 is the only mobile network operator to commit to net zero by 2025 and we’re reducing CO2 by buying 100% renewable electricity to power our network.

As part of the network’s ongoing work to take an industry-leading position on sustainability, O2 unveiled a Green Savings Calculator last year with the Carbon Trust to show how UK businesses could benefit from millions of pounds in new savings and dramatically reduce their carbon footprint. In trials, the calculator found an average potential annual saving of £2.6m for a company of 1,000 employees*. Overall, O2 calculated that it could provide a £53bn** annual saving for companies in the UK by providing flexible working tools and support, at a time when employers are working hard to support UK workers through the COVID-19 pandemic.

-ENDS-

 

Notes to Editors:

O2 vs CO2 campaign

O2.co.uk/O2vsCO2

Methodology

Sample Calculation – an Instagram Post

Average size of an Instagram page – 1 Megabyte

Data transferred across 80,000,000 followers – 80,000,000 Megabytes, 80,000 Gigabytes

kWh of energy to transfer 1 Gigabyte of data – 5 kWh.

(Average of 7.1kWh and 3 kWh from two papers referenced in Stanford Magazine https://medium.com/stanford-magazine/carbon-and-the-cloud-d6f481b79dfe), corroborated by this paper that states 5.12 kWh per Gbyte https://www.aceee.org/files/proceedings/2012/data/papers/0193-000409.pdf

Total energy used = 5 x 80,000 = 400 MWh.

Assuming energy from the UK, then using UK Government Emissions Factors 2020

(https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/greenhouse-gas-reporting-conversion-factors-2020).

The standard figure for CO2e emissions from UK grid electricity is 0.23 kg per kWh plus 0.02 kg per kWh for the transmission to a household, ie 0.25 kg per kWh. NB UK’s energy intensity compares favourable to worldwide intensity figures, if this traffic is mainly in the US then these figures would up to twice as large (https://yearbook.enerdata.net/co2-fuel-combustion/world-CO2-intensity.html).

= 400000 kWh x 0.25 kg per kWh

= 100000 kg of CO2e

= 100 Tonnes of CO2e

NB CO2e – is Tonnes of CO2 equivalent, taking into account other greenhouse gas emissions of methane, N2O etc as part of the energy generation.

Multiplied by a typical 250 posts a year by an influencer

= 25 ktonnes of CO2e per year

References

Standardised Carbon Footprinting Documents
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/
greenhouse-gas-reporting-conversion-factors-2020

Basic energy use calculator
https://energyusecalculator.com/electricity_printer.htm

Power usage of smart home gadgets
https://www.the-ambient.com/features/power-smart-home-tech-yearly-cost-374

Paper waste analysis in the office
https://cundall.com/Cundall/fckeditor/editor/images/UserFilesUpload/
file/WCIYB/IP-6%20-%20CO2e%20emissions%20due%20to%20office%20waste.pdf

5 kWh per GB of data paper
https://www.aceee.org/files/proceedings/2012/data/papers/0193-000409.pdf

Further Reading

How Bad are Bananas? Mike Berners-Lee

Tips for lockdown energy saving at home
https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/
energy-saving-tips-when-you-are-stuck-home/utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialSignIn

Wrap green office guide
https://www.wrap.org.uk/

Environmental Statements of large internet companies

https://www.oracle.com/corporate/citizenship/sustainability/operations.html

https://www.gstatic.com/gumdrop/sustainability/247-carbon-free-energy.pdf

https://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2020/01/16/microsoft-will-be-carbon-negative-by-2030/

BBC Reporting on energy use of transmission and streaming
https://www.bbc.co.uk/rd/blog/2020-09-sustainability-video-energy-streaming-broadcast

Zoom and Oracle data usage
https://www.oracle.com/customers/zoom.html

Ofcom’s UK Online Nation Report
https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0027/196407/online-nation-2020-report.pdf

ONS Workforce Statistics
https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/
employmentandemployeetypes/datasets/workforcejobsbyregionandindustryjobs05

Countries by CO2 emissions
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions

Smartphones and Energy Consumption
https://www.core-econ.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Data-competition-selfie.pdf

Greenhouse gas emissions as a result of spectators travelling to football in England https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-06141-y.

Green Savings Calculator

Calculator savings are representative examples, for businesses in professional activities sector with employees taking an average number of UK business trips of 2 per month, and no international travel, without a fleet of vehicles. Going from zero home working to all employees working two days per week at home.

 Business with 100 employees:

  • 53 tonnes of CO2 saving per year
  • £261,000 saving in energy, travel-related costs and office rationalisation
  • 8,520 hours saved on commuting and business travel

 *Business with 1000 employees

  • 534 tonnes of CO2 saving per year
  • £2.6m saving in energy, travel-related costs and office rationalisation
  • 85,196 hours saved on commuting and business travel

 UK business average 

(excluding businesses with fewer than 5 employees and therefore, based on ONS UK Govt. business population estimates 2019, based on an average of 39 employees)

  • 21 tonnes of CO2 saving per year
  • £102,000 saving in energy, travel-related costs and office rationalisation
  • 3,323 hours saved on commuting and business travel

**O2’s calculations are based on UK-wide figure across all sectors and obtained by removing the people that are not able to work remotely or are already mainly working from home. A total of 20.333.894 employees could benefit from homeworking in the UK, taking out employees already mainly working from home and professions that cannot be performed remotely.

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