Building sustainability – can the Internet harm the environment?

It’s been an unusual and challenging year for all of us, Covid has forced us into their homes more than we ever thought.

In Lockdown, our network usage has increased so we can stay connected; work from home, Zoom calls, quizzes, TikToks and Joe Wicks lessons. This more digital lifestyle has helped keep us close, intelligent and healthy.

How Locking Changed the Physical World

If for us humans, these have been stories of more staying, then for nature they have been more of escaping. The pandemic has brought us so many fantastic stories about renewed nature that have never been seen in a generation. The Venetian canals were so clear, fish were visible, air pollution in India was so low that people could see Himalayas and dolphins back from their homes in Hong Kong. Who would not feel positive when they hear these stories.

Our impact on the environment and how we can be more sustainable is complex, and it is probably one of the most crucial problems of our civilization. David Attenborough has told us to think about how we use plastic, Greta Thunberg has told us to think about how we travel, but why hasn’t anyone asked us to think about how we use the internet?

Does the Internet affect the environment?

Digital and physical feeling are inherently connected, but what we do online affects what happens to us offline.

63.9% of the world’s electricity is generated by fossil fuels, which power and charge our phones, laptops, tablets and smart TVs. Whenever we open an email, tweet or view Netflix, we use that energy. Our data centers supporting the use of the Internet currently produce about 3.8% of global CO2 emissions, similar to the aviation industry, and this is growing with our greater data hunger. Some projections predict that by 2025, global communications technologies will emit more CO2 than any country except China, India and the United States.

Hallam’s website generates 0.37g of CO2 every time someone visits it. Based on traffic, it produces a year that produces the same amount of CO2 for 2113 cups of tea as boiling water. Our website is cleaner than 76% of other websites.

cup of tea

Energy and technology efficiency will be improved, but in the face of such a complex problem, there is no silver bullet to fix it, we must all play our part in protecting the environment, and we can also help as web professionals.

It is good for us that many of the goals we have in creating online products help reduce our energy consumption and environmental impact. Here are some things we should all think about the next time we create a digital product or experience.

1. SEO

The goal of SEO is to help users find the information they need quickly and easily. When SEO does what we want, users spend less time browsing and clicking on links that don’t meet their needs, so they spend less data and energy.

2. Copywriting

The same goes for copywriting. Sometimes we want users to take the time to read what we have to say, but what they don’t want is to waste their time digesting low value-added content. Clear and effective copy works for both the user and the environment.

3. UX

An aspect of good UX is streamlining users’ journey, allowing them to get where they need to be easily and efficiently. A user who wastes their time navigating a website is not only frustrated, but increases the time spent online. Keep things simple so users don’t have to figure out what they should do.


4. Images

Images usually make the biggest contribution to page weight. The higher the weight of the page, the more data is needed to load it and the more energy is used. Designers and content creators should consider whether the image really adds value and contributes to the experience, and if not, is it necessary? Image optimization is also key. Uploading the right size images instead of relying on CSS is the first step in reducing energy consumption. Further steps include using image compression tools such as Kraken and uploading appropriate image types, such as JPGs, not PNGs, or GIFs, not JPGs.

5. Video

The same goes for videos as they do pictures. Ask yourself, does it add to the experience, does the user watch my 5-minute hero background video, or can it be 10 seconds long? Can it be compressed, does it have to be 4k? Does the video need to play automatically, or can we leave it to the user?

6. Funds

System fonts are not usually the first for design choices, but they do not need to be loaded because they are already on our devices. Sometimes it is unavoidable to use a custom font, but keep the variation to a minimum when using them. Technical options, such as using web-based files such as WOFF instead of TTF, and loading only on scales used in the design, not the whole family, can also help.

7. Code

Writing clean code is the goal of every developer. The code we write must be simple and efficient, but also consider the code we copy and borrow – does it need more cleaning? We can also try to minimize plug-ins when using a CMS.

8. Carbon offsetting

Helping the environment means not only reducing but also giving back. We can offset our carbon footprint, but work with services and schemes that reduce our impact, such as planting trees.

Being more sustainable is likely to bring changes for all of us, but some of these changes we can make now and are ones we hardly notice because they require little or no effort. Next time you start work and ask: why? WHO? What? make sure we ask: how?

Want to know how you can be more sustainable using the Internet? Contact contact us today or learn how we do our part for the environment.

Leave a Reply