Improving the carbon footprint of video calls

Video calls are not very climate-friendly, but with a few tricks you can reduce the CO2 emissions they produce – by up to 25 times.

At present, we not only meet colleagues via videoconferencing, but also regularly use tools such as Zoom, Skype or Facetime privately. Because right now, that’s the only safe way for us to meet friends and family.

So at the moment we are dependent on these tools, and doing without them altogether is usually not an option, and for good reason. But what we can do: Use them consciously – and improve our carbon footprint with a few tricks. After all, data transfer during video calls consumes a lot of energy.

If you make video calls with your smartphone for an hour a day, for example, this produces 67 kilograms of CO2 equivalents over the whole year. That’s the result of a study by Jens Gröger, a senior researcher at the Öko-Institut. However, the figure also includes emissions from the manufacture and use of smartphones; only data transmission on the mobile Internet accounts for 21 kilograms of CO2 equivalents per year. That’s roughly equivalent to a car trip of 90 kilometers (in a small car powered by diesel).

How to save energy with video calls

  • For video calls with many people (for example, during meetings at work), the non-active participants can turn off microphones and video cameras. At 15 meetings per week, turning off a camera can reduce CO2 emissions per participant:in by a factor of 25, according to a study from the United States. However, this figure is based on a global average and is influenced by where the streaming takes place and where the servers are located that you are connected to.
  • Those who call with friend:in naturally want to see the others. In that case, you can see if you can lower the video resolution a bit. This is possible with providers like Threema, for example. Of course, you should still recognize each other – but you don’t need 4K for that. The lower the resolution, the less data has to be transmitted.
  • Normal voice calls can also motivate you in Corona’s everyday life. According to Jens Gröger of the Öko-Institut, these consume less data volume than video calls. “This is particularly relevant for mobile phone connections, which are associated with high energy consumption,” says the expert.
  • You can also save energy by making video calls via WLAN. These are namely more economical than mobile phone connections, according to Gröger.

For even more sustainability, you can switch to green electricity. By supporting reputable providers, you ensure that the share of electricity from renewable energies in the power grid is expanded. And that means, among other things, that we run our electrical appliances on greener electricity.