An eco-friendly website is just the start when it comes to reducing your business’s digital carbon footprint. Here at Root Web Design Studio, we’ve been on a journey to understand the carbon impact of all our digital activities, and there are plenty of small changes every business can make to make a difference.
Here are our top tips for improving your digital sustainability…
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The digital emissions problem
The carbon footprint of our devices, the internet and the systems supporting them are responsible for about 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions – that’s similar to the amount produced by the airline industry every year. And according to The Shift Project, which carried out the research, the energy consumption of digital technologies continues to increase, rising by a further 9% every year.
So what can we do as individuals and business owners to limit the impact of our digital activities? Where are there sustainable choices to be made? Let’s look at five broad areas:
- Data storage
- Devices and hardware
Learn more about digital sustainability in our article What is sustainable web design?
Around the world, 374.3 billion emails are sent and received every day, generating more than 150 million tonnes of CO2 a year. And while is undoubtedly a necessary communication tool for businesses, there are a few practices and processes you can implement to limit the environmental impact.
- Delete old emails. Keeping 10-year-old emails that you’ll never read again takes up server space and requires energy. Making the time to do an inbox audit, and encouraging colleagues to do the same, can lead to some big CO2 savings.
- Make every email count. If every adult in the UK stopped sending short ‘thank you’ emails, we could save 16,433 tonnes of CO2 a year – equivalent to taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road. Consider if the email you’re about to send is really necessary, and if it isn’t, don’t send it.
- Unsubscribe. Every email you receive adds to your carbon footprint. Just one email newsletter containing one photo will produce 50g of CO2, so unsubscribing from all those emails you never read anyway will make a difference to the planet, as well as to your inbox. Who needs social media email notifications anyway?
Holding meetings via Zoom or Teams is undeniably better for the environment than everyone in that meeting driving for an hour for a face-to-face. However, it still generates greenhouse gas emissions and adds to your business’s carbon footprint.
The good news is that simply turning off your camera can have a huge impact, reducing the CO2 generated by a one-hour meeting from 157.3g to just 6.2g.
For larger companies, moving data storage operations to the cloud can help reduce carbon emissions by as much as 50%, while also reducing energy costs and the need to buy and maintain on-site hardware. Even smaller companies can see reductions in their energy use when using shared data networks rather than on-site servers.
The more data you’ve got stored in the cloud, the more carbon your business is generating. And with businesses generating more and more data on a daily basis, it’s not only good for the environment to have a good data management policy, it’s good business practice.
Perform a regular audit of your online storage – Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. – and delete unnecessary files and folders. You could consider backing up on an external hard drive instead to free up the space and energy being used.
Devices and hardware
Moving infrastructure to the cloud can help businesses reduce their IT carbon footprint by as much as 88% and improve carbon efficiency by as much as 98%. The big payers in cloud – Google, Microsoft, AWS – have all committed to decarbonising their data centres over the next few years, and this can help individual businesses achieve their own sustainability goals.
Factor in the fact you’ll be cutting down emissions of manufacturing hardware you no longer need, and the impact could be huge.
Dimming the brightness of your monitor from 100% to 70% can reduce the amount of energy used by as much as 20%. Encouraging all colleagues to dim their screens just a little bit will add up to some good carbon (and energy-cost) savings.
Set to sleep
Setting your laptop to go into sleep mode while you’re taking a break can save as much as 67.5 watts of energy. Encourage your colleagues to do this whenever they’re away from their desks for longer than five minutes, and those carbon savings will start to add up.
It’s not going to be feasible to go round the office unplugging absolutely everything, but it’s worth knowing that computers and laptops consume 0.5-2 watts of energy even when they’re turned off. Unplugging just a few will make a small difference – and it’s always those small differences that go towards making a bigger one.
Encourage walking meetings
Not all team meetings need to be held in the office with everybody on their laptops – why not get out into the open and have a walking meeting in the nearest woodland, country park or by the canal instead?
It’s a well-known fact that being surrounded by nature stokes our energy, creativity and focus too, so everybody will be feeling much more energised and inspired when they return to their desks. The emissions savings of a few people being offline for an hour or so will soon add up.
Minimise digital distractions
All of us are prone to getting distracted by the sheer scope of the internet when we’re sat at our computers all day. It’s so easy to just hop on social media for a few minutes to see what’s going on. And when a random question pops into our head, all it takes is a quick Google search to find the answer. But did you know that every Google search creates 0.2g of CO2 (there are 3.5 billion carried out per day), or that Facebook generates 0.8g of CO2 per user every day?
Making a point of minimising these distractions – a suitable browser plug-in might help – will help you increase your productivity while reducing your digital carbon footprint.
Choose a green search engine
A lot of us need to do regular internet searches while working. Instead of heading straight for Google as standard, why not try one of the eco-friendly search engines instead?
Ecosia is probably the best known, and uses the profits made from your searches to plant trees and offset the digital carbon footprint. They have so far planted more than 165 million trees around the world, and have a growing base of active, sustainability-minded users.
Be mindful of videos
It’s easy to get lost in watching funny videos on social media, but video is an enormous energy-guzzler and carbon generator. According the French think-tank The Shift Project, video accounts for 60% of global data flow and produces 300 million tonnes of CO2 annually – and those figures are rising every year.
Instead of turning to Netflix or social media during break or lunch times, try picking up a book or magazine instead. Even if you do this a couple of times a week, it’ll have a positive impact on your carbon footprint.
Download rather than stream
Talking of watching videos online… in 2020, streaming of long-form video content accounted for about 45% of total internet traffic, with 55g of CO2 being generated, per user, for every hour of streaming. Spotify says user streaming makes up for 42% of the 353,000 tonnes of CO2 it produces every year.
The good news here is that downloading videos, songs or podcasts instead of streaming them can reduce the environmental impact, both at the data centre where it streams from, and on your own device. Streaming is much better for the environment than purchasing a physical DVD or CD, but downloading can reduce emissions by as much as 80% over streaming.
There are so many small changes we can make as individuals and businesses to reduce the impact of our digital activities on the planet. If every one of us made just a few small tweaks, we could set the world on the path towards a much greener future. Why not try:
- Decluttering your email inbox – deleting old emails and unsubscribing from newsletters you no longer read.
- Taking your meetings outdoors when you can. This will do away with the emissions of a videoconference, and give your teams an energy, creativity and mental wellbeing boost.
- Switching to a green search engine like Ecosia, which plants trees when users search.
- Picking up a book or magazine during a couple of lunch breaks each week, instead of heading for Netflix or YouTube.
- Carbon impact of video streaming – A report by The Carbon Trust
- Digital sustainability: How to get started today – A Mightybytes guide for organisations looking to make bigger changes, by Tim Frick
- World Wide Waste: How digital is killing our planet and what we can do about it – eBook by Gerry McGovern