Telecommuting holds promise for decarbonizing Canada’s economy

Connecting Canada on the Road to 2030  is a report released by the Pembina Institute on June 16, with the subtitle: Exploring the climate benefits and impacts of teleworking. The report states that in 2020, the pandemic resulted in a global GHG emissions drop of 3.9% – and in Canada, GHG emissions dropped by 7% compared to 2019.  By August 31, 2020, 27% of Canadians were teleworking full-time (up from 18% in March 2020). The report attributes the greatest proportion of emissions reduction to reduced transportation, but given that the research was commissioned by TELUS Canada, the main focus of the report is to examine the GHG impacts of greater use of the internet.

Using U.S. data when Canadian data is not available, the report states that the increase in residential emissions by employees was outweighed by the decrease in emissions from transportation and commercial buildings, indicating that there is the potential for decarbonization through telework. Residential emissions from internet use are primarily attributed to the energy demand of access devices, such as phones, laptops, and TVs, and the emissions intensity of the electricity grid that powers them – and the report discusses the differences and complexities of renewable energy by Canada’s ICT sector. The attention to the differences in rural and urban Canada is key aspect of this report – both in terms of commuting distances and installed broadband internet capacity.  The report concludes that: “governments must recognize the environmental value of connecting homes in rural and underserved areas to broadband, coupled with investments from government and industry in clean energy to ensure all possible emissions reductions are achieved.”  It makes clear that Canada requires further research into the GHG emissions of internet use.

Streaming Video is slowing Efforts to Green the Internet

Greenpeace has been evaluating the energy demand of the Internet, and the energy choices made by individual Internet companies,  since 2010 , with its Cool It campaign.  A new report, Clicking Clean: A Guide to Building the Green Internet  identifies two major problems for companies who are moving to greener practices: 1. several critical data centre hubs must rely on monopoly electric utilities which provide only coal-generated electricity; and 2. the rapid rise of streaming video is driving significant growth in power use by data centers and network infrastructure. Profiles of the major tech companies show that Apple leads the way in the greening.