Cutting the Internet's Environmental Footprint: An Analysis of Consumers' Self-Attribution of Responsibility

According to recent forecasts, information, and communication technologies (ICT) could represent more than 14% of the global greenhouse gas emission by 2040, accounting for more than half of the current carbon footprint of the transportation sector (Belkhir & Elmeligi 2018). Given the unprecedented volume of data exchanged on the Internet every day, consumers' online practices require increasing amounts of energy and generate pollution. In particular, the energy consumption of data centers is very high (Guitart 2017). Every email sent, every video viewed, every request made on a search engine, every file stored on the cloud uses energy-intensive servers and indirectly generates greenhouse gases. Although consumers' awareness is still at an early stage, most of the major contributors who drive the Internet's infrastructure have been taking this issue very seriously over the past few years. Today, the environmental impact of the Internet is not in doubt. The main source of pollution is linked to the increasing use of energy-intensive servers.

According to a recent study, information and communication technologies generate the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as the aerospace industry, with a growing rate of 20% per year.

Some of the largest Internet companies such as Facebook, Google, or Apple have adopted a 100% renewable energy commitment. Data centers are expected to improve their electricity intensity in the future; however, this will not necessarily solve the problem as the development of more energy-efficient technologies may backfire and result in an increase of the total energy consumption because of an increase in demand. This is known as the Jevons paradox (Blake 2005). In this case, improvements of electricity efficiencies will not be enough to cope with the continuous growth of the global datacenter traffic (Andrae & Edler 2015; Jones 2018). The share of the world population with Internet access is increasing at an impressive pace (from 28.8% in 2010 to 58.8% in 2019; (Internet World Stats 2019). In this context, individual actions bear considerable weight, and consumers need to be included in the collective effort to reduce the environmental footprint of the ICT sector. The goal of this research project is to understand the implications of this issue from the perspective of consumer behavior.

Thank you @JofInteractive!
Currently, the lockdown situation is generating positive environmental outcomes, but at the same time it’s putting pressure on digital technologies and remote services... Unfortunately, our online practices also have significant environmental impacts⬇️

— Leila Gambier-Elgaaied (@LeilaGambierElg) April 16, 2020

Are consumers aware of the environmental impact of their online practices? How do they react to it? Are they willing to adopt greener behavior online? their online practices? These questions have important marketing implications for many actors. (1) Green IT start-ups are the main protagonists. For these companies, it is crucial to identify consumers' expectations, motivations, and reservations toward green IT in order to adapt their products/services accordingly and communicate appropriately. (2) For public policy makers and pro-environmental NGOs, understanding consumers' psychological mechanisms could help promote behavior change toward sustainable Internet usage more effectively. Finally, (3) the Big Four tech companies (GAFA, i.e., Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) are also on the front line. Understanding the extent to which eco friendliness is an important attribute for consumers would help them anticipate the potential impact of the growing environmental awareness on their future activity.