Twitter and its heavy digital carbon footprint

Greenly, the Paris-based enterprise specializing in measuring the carbon footprint of companies and events, recently investigated the ecological impact of a single tweet, as well as that of the whole firm.

Beyond analyzing the impact of the chirpy blue bird, the study also highlights the share contributed by certain highly engaged and followed personalities, far more pronounced than the average user. This includes Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk who, despite his purported eco-friendly credentials, figures among the top 10 influencers, de facto among the biggest polluters of the Twittersphere.

Each of our digital activities come with an ecological cost – and our tweets are not to be left behind.

A new study conducted by Greenly thus examines the carbon footprint of Twitter, by taking into account the energy consumed by a smartphone, the impact of requests and data packets being handled by servers, as well as the impact of information being exchanged over social media. Initially estimated in 2010 by an unnamed Twitter employee to be around 0.02g CO2-equivalent (CO2e), subsequent research by numerous climate experts has put the ecological impact of a single tweet to be 0.026g CO2e.

In order to measure Twitter’s ecological footprint, Greenly accounted for the average number of tweets published per day (867 million), amounting to an estimated 316 billion tweets annually. Based on their calculation that a single tweet emits 0.026g in CO2-equivalent emissions, Twitter annual footprint amounts to 8,200 tons in CO2e emissions, the equivalent of 4,685 flights flying between Paris and New York.

Most of these emissions come from the electricity consumed in Twitter’s data centers, located in countries where electricity generation is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels.


A truly equal ‘town square’?

According to Greenly CEO Alexis Normand: Obviously, a tweet sent out by Elon Musk for instance, would not have the same carbon footprint as one sent out by a random Twitter user. This is because the number of followers vary from one account to another. Therefore, it remains fairly difficult to quantify the precise annual carbon footprint of every account, but we can supply a fairly representative estimate of reality through this study.”


Currently, Twitter has 486 million active users, averaging 700 followers each. According to an estimate carried out by the climate tech Greenly, the 10 most-followed accounts on Twitter themselves account for 22.5 tons of CO2e emissions, 0.26% of Twitter’s total ecological footprint.

This is equivalent to 13 flights between Paris and New York, or the annual per capita carbon footprint humans must reach by 2050 in line with established carbon neutrality objectives. Former US President Barack Obama (133.2m), Twitter CEO Elon Musk (118.8m) head the list of most followed accounts, closely followed by Canadian pop star Justin Bieber, Portuguese football player Cristiano Ronaldo and American comedian Ellen DeGeneres.

From an environmental standpoint, tweets themselves do not majorly contribute to Twitter’s ecological footprint; it is rather the number of followers a given account can bring together. Beyond purchasing Twitter, Elon Musk has repeatedly voiced his ambition to create a super application named X in the next three years, standing to further increase photo and video content traffic on the internet. “It is entirely possible that carbon emissions only skyrocket further””, indicates Tommy Catherine, expert at Greenly’s Carbon Institute..

The IT sector accounts for 5% of global carbon emissions, composed of product manufacturing (66%), network traffic (19%) and data centers (15%). In order to reduce its carbon footprint, Twitter can seek to decrease the number and power of its vCPU instances and relocate data centers to countries where electricity generation is less carbon-intensive. This applies to all social network operators, which must prioritize moving data centers to countries generating electricity using renewable energy. Although Twitter’s carbon footprint remains far lower than other Internet giants such as TikTok, Meta (Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest), Snapchat and Reddit, Musk’s social network uses a mere 10% of its total energy from renewable sources;


About Greenly

Founded in October 2019 by Alexis Normand (CEO, former VP of Healthcare at Withings, HEC, Sciences Po, formerly at the Boston offices of Withings and Techstars), Mathieu Vergeville (CTO, X-Telecom, former data scientist at Withings) and Arnaud Delubac (CMO, Essec-Centrale, INSEE, formerly in charge of digital communication in the office of the French Prime Minister), Offspend SAS launched Greenly in January 2020 as the world’s first carbon accounting platform with almost 1,000 corporate clients in France, the UK and the US. The climate tech allows all enterprises, regardless of their size or sector of activity, to contribute to the fight against climate change, starting by simply tracking their CO2 emissions. Once a report is completed, Greenly helps them develop a roadmap to help them align themselves to a Net Zero Initiative. Greenly obtained the B-Corp label in September 2022, putting their solution at the disposal of the society at large.

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