Hidden ways your web presence harms your sustainability & what to do about it
You’re a conscious company. You recycle. You use LED lighting. You manage your HVAC system and turn off your computers at night. You may even compost. And if you work with Ideaction Corps, you might even be a Certified B Corporation, which means you’ve undertaken their rigorous assessment process to ensure your efforts will result in a smaller environmental impact for your company or organization. My hat’s off to you!
There’s one area, however, where you may not have considered your company’s environmental impact: your web presence. While there are dozens of sustainability assessments focused on components like your supply chain or office, the web is one place where most sustainability and life cycle assessments fall short. They may cover the electricity use of internal servers, printers, and so on, but they don’t typically take a company’s website or social media activity into consideration. You may not know it, but your organization’s website and content marketing efforts could be leading to a greater environmental impact.
Consider these stats:
- According to the folks at Twitter, a single tweet generates .02 grams of carbon. At half a billion tweets per day (as of last year), Twitter generates daily emissions of 10 metric tons.
- The majority of electricity (34%) that powers Facebook’s data centers comes from coal, and the social network’s carbon footprint increased by 32% in 2012 (to 704m KwH).
- Many web pages have a carbon footprint which exceeds that of a printed page, especially if the web page is left open for long periods of time, such as when reading blog posts or watching movies. In fact, the average web page is about 15 times larger than it was ten years ago. Larger page size means it takes longer (and more resources) to download.
- According to a report earlier this year in Time, the digital economy uses a tenth of the world’s electricity — and that figure is on the rise. And much of that electricity isn’t renewable. In 2011, according to the US Energy Information Administration, only about 19% of electricity generation in the world, and only 12.7% of energy generation in the United States, came from renewable resources.
- The book Breakpoint by Jeff Stibel notes that powering the internet at its current growth rate means it could use as much as 20% of the world's energy within 10 years and poses a potential threat to power grids across the globe.
These are sobering stats, sure, but it is well within our reach to make the internet more sustainable. Where life cycle assessments and sustainability certifications fail, site owners and web designers can prevail. If we collectively consider sustainability when making decisions about our websites, we could significantly reduce the internet’s environmental impact. Of course, there’s not much you personally can do about social network energy use other than to perhaps think twice about posting that kitten video (but it’s sooo cute!). There are, however, many things you can do about your website.
Here are five:
- Switch to a hosting provider that uses 100% renewable energy to power their data centers. It’s the most significant thing you can do, because the energy used to host your website is where most of its carbon footprint comes from. Here’s a comprehensive list of green web hosting services from The Green Web Foundation or try fellow B Corp Canvas Dreams.
- Make your site easy to find: publishing keyword-rich, SEO-friendly content regularly will help people find what they need quickly, resulting in small bandwidth savings that add up.
- Make your site mobile-friendly: the number of devices on the internet will only grow. Making sure your site offers an experience optimized for these devices will save a lot of finger-scrolling time . . . and resources.
- Make your site easy-to-use: optimize every task that a customer completes on your site for the least number of steps. If a person can purchase something in three steps rather than six, your site users will thank you and they’ll use less resources in the process.