“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 researcher Roshanak “Roshi” Nateghi, Professor at Purdue University in the US.
For the study, 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 miscellaneous web surfing.
As expected, the more video used in an application, the larger the footprints, the researchers said.
The internet’s carbon footprint had already been increasing before Covid-19 lockdowns, accounting for about 3.7 per cent 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, the researcher said.
The researchers investigated these footprints and how they might be affected by increased internet traffic, finding that the footprints not only vary from one web platform to another, but also for countries.