Are websites environmentally friendly?

Environmental ยท 5 minute read

Are websites environmentally friendly?

We're all making efforts to be greener in our day-to-day lives. From putting up recycling bins for paper and plastic in our offices to supporting cycle-to-work schemes, it seems like everyone is trying to do their part to help the environment. But one area where many of us are still falling short is in understanding and reducing the environmental impact of our internet-based businesses and activities.

Reflecting on our Digital Footprint

While the physical waste we generate is relatively easy to understand and measure, our digital waste is much more elusive. Take websites, for example. They have become an integral part of how businesses operate today, so much so that the thought of them contributing to CO2 emissions might seem odd. After all, isn't a website a much greener alternative to printing thousands of brochures each year?

Yet, we mustn't underestimate the environmental impact of our online activities. The internet is not just revolutionizing our world, it's also creating a significant ecological footprint due to the CO2 emissions generated by data centres that host these websites.

The Internet's Energy Consumption

Large web companies, including AWS, Google, and others, operate vast server farms and data centres to host the ever-growing number of websites. As of January 2021, there were over 1.19 billion websites, all of which are continually operating, requiring electricity to function and resources to maintain an optimal temperature.

This constant operation contributes significantly to the internet's power consumption, accounting for around 2% of global energy use - a figure that may seem small, but is constantly increasing due to the growth of digital activities like email usage.

Email's Energy Consumption

Email indeed plays a critical role in our everyday lives. Whether it's for work, socialising, or even the inevitable spam, our inboxes are consistently active. Reports suggest that each email contributes to carbon emissions, with a 10KB email consuming approximately 0.074 microwatts of electricity and a 500KB email consuming up to 3.7 microwatts.

Now, let's see how this energy consumption adds up over a year in a workforce of 20 people who are sending between 15 to 30 emails a day.

First, let's estimate the total number of emails sent per year:

  • At the lower end, if each of the 20 employees sends 15 emails per day, over the course of a year (assuming 261 workdays), each employee will send approximately 3,915 emails. So, for a team of 20, that equates to 78,300 emails annually.

  • On the higher end, if each employee sends 30 emails daily, that would be 7,830 emails per employee per year, or 156,600 emails for the entire team.

Now, to calculate the energy consumed, let's use the higher energy consumption figure (3.7 microwatts per 500KB email), assuming that work emails often include attachments and therefore would likely be closer to 500KB than 10KB in size.

  • For the lower end, 78,300 emails would use approximately 289,710 microwatts or 0.29 watts of electricity annually.

  • For the higher end, 156,600 emails would use approximately 579,420 microwatts or 0.58 watts of electricity annually.

At first glance, these numbers might seem insignificant. Still, they underline the environmental impact of seemingly small digital activities when carried out at scale. And these calculations only consider the energy used to send emails, not the energy used in their creation, reading, storage, or the energy consumption of the devices on which they are read.

It's essential to remember that every bit of energy saved counts. Simple actions such as sending fewer unnecessary emails, cleaning up your inbox regularly, or reducing the size of attachments can contribute to lowering your digital carbon footprint. Using services such as WeTransfer is a great way to send a smaller email but still provide the attachments to your client / email recipient. Even the smallest of changes can make a significant impact when applied over a large scale.

Working Towards Greener Websites

The carbon footprint of your website is intrinsically tied to the design and functionality of its elements. A large number of complex pages, intricate design elements, and extensive use of multimedia content like images, graphics, and videos can lead to higher CO2 emissions. Each time a user loads your webpage, the server needs to process these elements, which requires energy. Moreover, higher data volumes also mean that more energy is consumed during data transfer over the network.

But it's not just about the content on your website. The efficiency of your underlying code can significantly impact your website's energy consumption. Optimised, well-written code can help reduce the server's processing load, thereby decreasing the energy used to serve each webpage.

Web designers and developers can adopt several strategies to enhance a website's sustainability. This includes optimising images and other media files to ensure they are no larger than necessary. Implementing efficient coding practices, utilising lazy loading (whereby content is only loaded when it comes into the user's view), and minimising the use of resource-intensive elements like JavaScript can also help.

Solar farm providing green energy to a server hosting company

Green Website Hosting

As experts in WordPress development, we've worked with numerous hosting companies, always aiming to find the right balance between security, speed, and cost. Now, we also consider the eco-credentials of these companies. Green website hosting, though not yet mainstream, is a growing trend that we're excited about and will be discussing more in future blog posts.

Google's Environmental Impact

As a massive user of energy, Google is at the forefront when it comes to understanding the internet's environmental impact. In 2018, Google reportedly released 4.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. They've been offsetting emissions since 2007 and have pledged to run entirely on carbon-free energy by 2030 - a commendable goal that they are well on their way to achieving.

We're Here to Help

Making a website more environmentally friendly can seem daunting, but we're here to help. Whether it's assessing your current website's environmental impact or helping you transition to greener hosting solutions, our team is ready to assist you. We're passionate about making the world a greener place and are thrilled to apply our expertise to this vital cause. So, don't hesitate to reach out - let's work together to reduce our digital carbon footprint!