Environmental study suggests turning off camera during virtual meetings

January 27, 2021

A new study suggests that leaving your camera off during virtual meetings could reduce your carbon, water and land footprints.

The study, conducted by researchers at Purdue University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the first to examine land and water footprints in correlation with internet infrastructure and carbon footprints.

Turning your camera off during virtual meetings can reduce these footprints by 96%, the researchers estimated.

“If you just focus on one type of footprint, you miss out on others that can provide a more holistic look at environmental impact,” said Roshanak Nateghi, a Purdue professor who was part of the research team.

The team estimated the carbon, water and land footprints associated with each gigabyte of data used in YouTube, Zoom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and 12 other platforms, as well as in online gaming and web surfing. As expected, the more video used in an application, the larger the footprints.

The internet’s carbon footprint had already been increasing before COVID-19 lockdowns, accounting for about 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions. But the water and land footprints of internet infrastructure have largely been overlooked in studies of how internet use impacts the environment, said Kaveh Madani, who led and directed the study as a visiting fellow at the Yale MacMillan Center.

Several countries have reported at least a 20% increase in internet traffic since March. If the trend continues through the end of 2021, this increased internet use alone would require a forest of about 71,600 square miles – twice the land area of Indiana – to sequester the emitted carbon, the study found.

The team gathered data for Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S.

Environmental study suggests turning off camera during virtual meetings