New Yorkers Inspect the New Iphone at an Apple Store in the City, September 20, 2019. – Levine-Roberts / Sipa USA / SIPA

  • The digital world today emits 4% of global greenhouse gases, more than civil air transport, said in July the think tank The Shift Project in a report on "The unsustainable use of online video."
  • So what is the environmental impact of a simple video watched on YouTube? It is to answer this type of question that The Shift Project has developed the "Carbonalyser" tool, available on Firefox and, for a few days, on Android.
  • The idea? Make people aware of the hidden side of the digital world "But the environmental impact of digital is not just the use we make of it," warns Frédéric Bordage, founder of Green It. Explanations.

Thirty-two grams CO2 equivalent released into the atmosphere, which amounts to 150 meters by car. All this for watching YouTube summary of the last great victory of the Stade Brestois against Dijon in Ligue 1. That is less than four minutes of video.

A treasure for the environment? Perhaps, but at the end of the day, the carbon impact of our digital activities is no longer negligible. And even less when we think at the scale of the week, the month or even the year … This is the exercise that allows to do "Carbonalyser", a program that informs in real time of greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse associated with your activities on the Web.

Digital, regularly trapped …

Behind the tool is the Shift project, a French think tank that aims to mitigate climate change and reduce the dependence of the economy on fossil fuels. Transport, housing, agriculture are presented as
 the main fields on which to act to arrive at a carbon-free society. The digital, he, regularly goes to the trap. However, today it emits 4% of global greenhouse gases, more than civil air transport, the July Shift Project said in a report on
 "The unsustainable use of online video." The only annual video streaming is equivalent to the CO2 emissions of a country like Spain.

"We are all today intensive users of digital, which does not facilitate the questioning of this use," begins Frederic Bordage, creator of
Green IT, a collective of digital experts that has been promoting sustainable computing since 2004. The operation – for many "obscure" – of the Internet does not help to discern its environmental impacts. "The digital players are playing on this," says Frédéric Bordage. They talk excessively about "virtuality", "cloud" …. What is lighter than a cloud? "

Behind the screen, servers and a network …

All the object of Carbonalyser is then to show this hidden side of the digital. "The program counts the number of bytes that pass through your browser and your time spent on the Internet, details Maxime Efoui-Hess, project manager at The Shift Project. Then, it calculates the electrical consumption that your use of Internet necessitated. At the same time to operate your terminal (smartphone, laptop, tablet …), but also, behind,
data centers and the
"Network infrastructure" that routes the data to you. Carbonalyser then displays this power consumption and indicates the number of times it would have been possible to charge a smartphone with this amount of energy. Four refills for this video of Stade Brestois!

The tool converts this electricity consumption into greenhouse gas emissions (indicated in CO2 equivalent) and mentions how far it is to drive. Calculations are based on world averages. "Do not wait for this tool to give you a detailed environmental assessment of your Internet use," says Maxime Efoui-Hess. It gives you an order of magnitude and thus a finer apprehension of the hidden face of the digital. However, for The Shift Project, it is a crucial step to bring to the following: the questioning of our uses and, ultimately, the numerical sobriety.

Before "Carbonalyser", EcoIndex

Frédéric Bordage also sees in Carbonalyser good news. "The tool helps to accelerate awareness of the environmental impacts of digital, which is just beginning," he notes. In the same vein, Green IT launched in 2015 EcoIndex, an online tool that assesses the environmental footprint of any web page you submit the url. "The program analyzes the website from
technical criteria (number of DOM elements, bandwidth, number of HTTP requests), explains Frédéric Bordage. They provide information on the complexity of the page, the amount of data exchanged and the number of round trips they make between your browser (Google Chrome, Firefox …) and the server of the analyzed web page. "The greedy the site, the less its environmental footprint will be good.

On EcoIndex, the test results in a score of 100 and a grade of A to G, for which it is possible to compare the analyzed web page with the 25,000 others already tested on EcoIndex. "The tool is aimed at both Internet users and those who design these sites and want to improve their eco-design," says Frédéric Bordage.

The manufacture of our equipment more than the uses of the Web?

But the founder of Green It warns, however, "this current trend to summarize the carbon footprint of the Web to the uses that are made of it." In other words, the videos we watch, the pages we download, the emails we send. "Of course, the digital sobriety will pass by a more reasoned use of Internet, concedes it. Nevertheless, three-quarters of the environmental footprint of digital is played before, in the manufacture of our equipment. »Computers, smartphones, tablets, connected objects, GPS …

At this stage, impacts are no longer measured only in greenhouse gas emissions, but also in terms of resource depletion. "The more we miniaturize and complexify the components, the greater their impact on the environment, these complex components requiring a lot of energy, chemical treatments and rare metals," recalls the Ademe (Environment Agency and the control of energy) in its note on "
"On the face of the digital" of November 2018. "On average, it is necessary to mobilize from 50 to 350 times their weight in material to produce electrical appliances with strong electronic component, continues the Ademe. Either 800 kg for a laptop and 500 kg for a modem. "

A generation before the depletion of resources?

Frédéric Bordage then judges the scabrous equation. "On the one hand, our societies are totally dependent on the digital, on the other, these technologies are based on non-renewable resources, whose stocks could be exhausted within a generation. In early May, Tesla, the American manufacturer of electric vehicles, alerted the US government about the upcoming shortage of copper, cobalt or nickel needed to design these vehicles. One of the causes is the competition of the digital industry over the use of these minerals.

For the moment, neither Frédéric Bordage nor Maxime Efoui-Hess observe a real leap in the practices of digital actors, as in that of users. It's pretty much always running ahead, worries the last one. "Take the technology of the image, he illustrates. HD (high definition) screens are not only becoming the norm, but manufacturers are already setting new standards. »The ultra HD, 4K, 8K … What's to launch a new wave of renewal of our equipment?