Social media and our carbon footprint
We at eco-shaper have been working on producing carbon footprint calculators for the software, and naturally, it’s got us all thinking about our own carbon impact. Something that often gets overlooked, is the impact of social media on our carbon footprint. When scrolling Instagram or TikTok, you don’t automatically think about the effect it’s having on sustainability. Many people get their climate news from Instagram, activists use social media to gain traction and indeed, companies like ourselves use social media to build audiences. But is all this scrolling doing you or the planet any good?
Energy consumption and social media
A study in 2020 examined the environmental effect of Instagram’s main features. Greenspector looked at various activities such as posting, scrolling and live viewing and were able to measure its carbon impact. The statistics were eye watering. The average impact of a mobile Instagram user is 18.6g EqCO2 / day, the equivalent of 166m travelled by a light vehicle. This doesn’t sound too bad right? That would be the case if only one person’s usage mattered. But with Instagram being the world’s most popular social media app, we are looking at 166m x 500 million daily users. Of this average, by far the most energy intensive activity is scrolling. In fact, one minute of scrolling amounts to driving 13m in a light vehicle. And this is just Instagram!
In May 2021, the number of active users of social networks stood at 4.33 billion (55.1% of the world population), or + 35% compared to 2019. 99% access social networks on a mobile device. 80% of the time (2 hours and 24 minutes) on social networks is spent on a mobile device. The carbon/user impact of this data equates to more than half of France’s carbon emissions (56%). TikTok, the newest social media craze, came out in a study as the app with the highest energy consumption of news feed/min of all social media applications.
Looking beyond energy use of feeds, another way that social media is driving climate change is through consumption. Through extensive targeted advertising and built-in shopping features, social media has a huge impact in driving sales. According to a study, 70 percent of active online adult social networkers shop online, 12 percent more likely than the average adult Internet user 53 percent of active adult social networkers follow a brand. The effects of social media are not something business owners can afford to overlook. The Deloitte report noted that consumers who use social media during their shopping process are four times more likely to spend more on purchases than those who do not.
Even if the consumption isn’t totally direct, the rise of influencers on social media has massively increased consumer demand for all sorts of materialism, whether that be household goods, clothing or a holiday. Besides the product introduced by the influencers, the luxury lifestyle we observe in their lifestyle is also an attractive motivation for the consumers.
The worst of this consumption being fast fashion. Instagram has become a major player in the fast fashion industry, which is responsible for more than 10 per cent of global carbon emissions.
The power of social media: raising awareness
The flip side of this argument is much harder to quantify but not one to ignore. Until now, we’ve examined the negative impact of social media on the climate crisis, however it is indisputable that social media is hugely powerful in affecting human behaviour. Just as influencers of any kind can promote consumption, they can also use their following in a positive way to promote sustainable ways of living. Followers see how effective and valuable some ecological initiatives are and begin following such trends to stay in tune with those that they’re influenced by.
Over the last decade, we have seen social media and sustainability play an increasingly important role in the way that both businesses and influential people conduct and talk about themselves. Together they’ve helped push corporations to new levels of transparency, opened avenues for greater engagement, forced organizations and individuals to rethink their role in society, and aligned individuals, businesses and communities around shared purpose.
Social media these days is one of the most successful channels for reaching the audience and implementing the right ideas with the help of different marketing instruments. Used in the right way, the power of social media can have a positive effect on our planet.
At eco-shaper, we drive action on climate change and streamline carbon footprinting. For example, we can help calculate emissions across the entire ecosystem that companies work across and produce automated reporting based on outcomes. It’s like Xero, for sustainability. Contact us to be part of our research group on