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Online meetings: turn off the webcam to help the planet

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Online meetings are all the rage in these teleworking times, but meetings without webcams would vastly improve our ecological footprint, according to research from two American universities.

A meeting without cameras would not only save you having to tidy up, it would also lead to a cleaner world. Researchers from Purdue and Yale universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) looked at the ecological footprint of various online activities. The footprint was made up of CO2 emissions, as well as water and land use.

The analysis took in major social media such as YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, but also gaming platforms and other media.

The results showed that video makes up a huge part of our online footprint. One hour of online meetings with webcam produces 150-1,000g of CO2, uses up 2-12 litres of water and consumes a piece of land the size of an iPad.

Switch off the webcam, and your footprint is cut by 96% at a stroke.

Outside of meetings, the research shows, a simple switch from high-definition video to standard quality could cut your footprint by 86%.

The research discovered some regional variations. Internet use in the US, for example, produces about 9% more CO2 than for example Germany, but uses up 45% less water and 58% less land.

Germany, on the other hand, produces much less CO2 than the world median, because of its level of renewable energy. But it also uses more water and land.

According to estimates, the worldwide increase in the use of the internet for all purposes has gone up by as much as 20% since the start of the pandemic. If that trend, once established, were to continue to the end of this year, the researchers estimate, it would take a forest covering 185,000 square kilometres to make up for the CO2 produced as a result.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times