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Hello, Guten Tag, Hej, Hola to you wherever you are on our planet Earth and welcome to issue 4 of Beneath the Surface.

📧 Rethinking how we use email

This month, we are turning our attention towards the environmental impact of emails.

There’s no irony lost here, believe us – but it’s precisely because email has become so central to modern communication that we need to consider both the impact it has and what we, as modern communicators, can do to reduce that impact.

Because the statistics around email and its associated emissions are staggering.

Globally, more than 370 million emails are sent every day, generating a massive 150 million tonnes of CO2 every year.

But when you consider that:

  • Almost half of all emails sent are classed as spam; and
  • The average open rate is 42% on mobile and just 18% on desktop…

So many of these emissions are patently unnecessary. It’s clear that there’s scope for making some huge environmental – and dare we say, productivity – gains, if we can all be a bit more thoughtful and intentional about the emails we send.

Small changes for a big impact

Research suggests that if every adult in the UK sent one less ‘thank you’ email a day, we could save more than 16,000 tonnes of CO2 a year – equivalent to taking 3,300 diesel cars off the road.

Obviously none of us want to come across as rude or dismissive by NOT saying thank you when it’s genuinely warranted, but if we take steps to proactively manage expectations – and explain our reasoning – most people will understand if we start sending fewer one-word emails.

Some other things we can try might involve:

  • Using an online calendar for organising meetings rather than engaging in email tennis to nail down a time when you’re both available.
  • Recording and sharing project updates through an online system like Trello, so everything’s in one place and everyone can see what’s happening.
  • Stopping copying in people who don’t actually need to be copied in.
  • Optimising the images in your email signature, or removing them altogether.
  • Sharing documents via a link to a Shared Drive rather than as an attachment to the email itself.
  • Unsubscribing from email newsletters you never read.
  • Reducing the frequency of your own business newsletter. Unless you have some time-sensitive news to share, nobody needs to hear from you every week.

Those a just a few minor behavioural changes we can all make to help reduce the impact of email on the environment.

Check out our ideas for rethinking how we use email in our blog.

✍️ Optimising web fonts for sustainable websites

Continuing our series on optimising the different elements of your website, this issue we are turning our attention to fonts.

These little characters of typographical design that are used to convey the hopes and dreams of businesses across the land. We use fonts to make writing equally more impactful, easier to read, nicer to look… And to make brands immediately identifiable.

But we can also use fonts to make our websites align more closely with our sustainability goals.

Using system fonts that don’t need to be downloaded by every visitor is the most environmentally friendly choice, but more than 80% of websites use web fonts. So in most cases, making CO2 savings with fonts will mean you need to optimise them.

Do this by:

  • Using the modern WOFF2 format for performant fonts. WOFF2 font files are about 25% the size of standard TTF and OTF formats.
  • Subsetting web fonts. By manually removing glyphs you don’t – and won’t ever – need, you can reduce the size of a font file by 90%.
  • Hosting your font locally. Storing your font files on the server where the rest of the website is located is more efficient than pulling it in from an external font library every time it loads.

For more tips on optimising fonts for the web, check out our blog: Optimising web fonts for sustainable websites.

🍄 Unearthed

~ Digital sustainability news, insights and tips from around the web.

Branch Magazine

The latest edition of Branch, the online magazine about sustainable web design, includes articles by Michelle Barker, Thorsten Jonas and Tom Greenwood. We also love how the website adapts based on the grid intensity of the power network. Wonderful stuff!

Digital Greenwashing Guide

Mighty Bytes, the team behind the fantastic EcoGrader tool, have published an insightful Digital Greenwashing Guide, which looks at the widespread problem of greenwashing. The guide explores the consequences of greenwashing, and offers guidance around how developers and businesses can avoid falling into the trap of perpetuating damaging sustainability untruths.

Webaim report

The recent Web Accessibility report by WebAIM shows we still have a long way to go in making websites accessible for everyone. This succinct summary by As It Should Be highlights that 55% of the 1 million top-performing websites have missing alt text tags on their images, and a massive 87% have low-contrast text on their home pages. It’s going to take a concerted effort by all of us to make improvements in this important area.

Climate Change and SEO

Ethical SEO expert Matt Tutt recently shared the outcome of his Climate Change and SEO survey for Search Engine Land, and there were some surprising results. While 78% of SEOs said it would encourage them to reduce the carbon emissions of client websites if Google started including web page emissions in the Core Web Vitals initiative, only 33% of respondents had ever used a website carbon calculator.

The key takeaway seems to be that SEOs care about creating a greener web, and believe that we all have a role to play. We couldn’t agree more.

🪴 Grow your knowledge

~ You ask the questions, we find the answers! This month, Simon asks…

“There seems to be a shiny new AI tool for everything at the moment but should I be worried about the amount of energy they must use?”

The environmental impact of AI is definitely something that concerns us here at Root.

This excellent LinkedIn post by sustainable web expert Claire Thornewill really hits the nail on the head, asking whether the much-trumpeted ‘increased efficiency’ (essentially more time to create more pollution) is worth the probable cost to the environment.

Taking into account not just the massive amount of energy used to train AI engines and the resulting carbon output, we also need to consider the amount of water consumed by the cooling systems, as well as the precious metals and other raw materials required to build the hardware. Building and ‘training’ AI is taking a lot from the planet, and not necessarily giving back.

As one researcher in sustainable AI says, ‘It doesn’t make sense to burn a forest and then use AI to track deforestation.’

The leading AI companies remain relatively tight-lipped on exact figures around the environmental impact of their creations, but a few things we do know for sure are:

  • Water consumption at Microsoft’s Iowa data centres tripled during 2022 when it began training ChatGPT-4 – in the midst of a three-year drought.
  • Researchers estimate that, for every 20 questions asked and answers generated, ChatGPT-4 consumes up to 500ml of water.
  • Gartner predicts that, by next year, AI tools could be consuming more energy than the entire global human workforce.

Certainly something to consider before asking AI to pick up a quick and routine task for you.

☀️ Other news

  • Massive thank you to CSS { In Real Life } for writing a follow up article on our piece about privacy-focussed web design.
  • We are currently fully booked but taking bookings for new web development projects starting in the Autumn.
  • And if you’d like some support with copywriting, Becky is currently taking bookings for projects to start in September. Drop her an email at

💚 Thank you for reading

This issue of Beneath the Surface was written by Paul Jardine and Becky Thorn. We’ll see you for issue 5 in July! ✌️

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