If you type a search request into Ecosia, you’re helping plant trees in Ethiopia. At least, that’s what the advertisements claim. The green alternative to Google isn’t the only online service playing up their sustainability. E-mail services Posteo and Mailbox claim to run using only renewable energy.
Is it a slick marketing strategy or a real environmental commitment? These kinds of companies’ efforts prove that eco-friendly concepts are economically competitive, says Marina Koehn of Germany’s Environmental Agency.
Greenpeace also thinks the strategies make sense. Its Click Clean website highlights which Internet companies are environmentally friendly and which are not.
A 2014 study by the German government estimated that the global consumption of all data centres is well over 300 terawatt hours per year and rising steadily. The biggest power guzzlers online are streaming services.
"We know that watching videos via streaming, like YouTube and similar video platforms, is responsible for around 70% to 80% of all data traffic," Koehn says.
Environmentally conscious consumers can look for labels that signify sustainable power generation. "All labels of this kind demand that 100% of the electricity is generated from renewable energies or comparable CO2-neutral sources, such as gas from landfills," says Roman Bansen of the Bitkom Internet industry association.
And there’s another level up: The Gold Standard label denotes services that financially compensate for their greenhouse gas output. But this has a much smaller positive ecological effect. "The main burden lies in electricity consumption," says Elke Mohrbach of Germany’s Environmental Agency. Therefore, energy efficiency measures should be rated higher than the use of green electricity.
But if companies don’t advertise aggressively, it’s difficult for consumers to know where the electricity comes from or to what extent sustainability promises are actually fulfilled. The experts agree, however, that the reliability of such advertising promises are generally high.
According to Greenpeace spokesman Niklas Schinerl, operators also have an interest in economical electricity consumption for purely economic reasons. And users can help improve sustainability in any case – by not checking your smartphone for messages every few minutes. – dpa