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Ricardo Moreira
Ricardo Moreira

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Web Sustainability. What is it and how to approach it?

It was not long time ago when I first heard about web sustainability. I never thought deeply about how much the internet we use, and how we use it can affect the planet. We are just using our computer right? 

It’s true and, by using the computer and the internet, we save paper and time but where is the catch?

It all started when I read that if the internet was a country would be the 6th most polluted country in the world (Now it's the 7th).

Then I decided to go deeper into this subject that I was not aware of it, therefore this month I will focus on Web Sustainability and I will divide it into 3 posts for easier reading:

Definition and Problem – Today

Solutions – 21/04/2021

Benefits and Resources – 28/04/2021

What is Web sustainability?

Gary Cook leads the campaign from Greenpeace to challenge global IT companies to become 100% renewably powered. He once said that:
This (the internet) is something that if we build it the right way, with the right sources of energy, could help power our transition to renewables. If we build it the wrong way, it could exacerbate the problem.”

A sustainable web can be defined by designing an internet that focuses on the needs of the present time but without compromising the future and the future generations. When creating digital products with web sustainability as a method you put people and the planet first.  

In the Sustainable Web Manifesto, a public declaration that you can also be part of, they call for internet that:

·        Clean: Services provided and used will be powered by renewable energy.

·        Efficient: Products and services will use the least amount of energy and material resources possible.

·        Open: Products and services will be accessible, allow users to control their data, and enable the open exchange of information.

·        Honest: Products and services will not mislead or exploit users.

·        Regenerative: Products and services will support an economy that nourishes people and the planet.

·        Resilient: Products and services will function in times and places where users need them most.

The Problem(s)

  • Energy/ electricity  

The big or the more direct problem with web sustainability is electricity. Internet is run on electricity. To have your website running you need electricity. The server that runs the hosting of your website needs to run 24/7 so of course that electricity can become a problem because it can be “dirty” electricity that runs on fossil fuels not using renewable energy. 

Globally renewables made up 26.2% of global electricity generation and should expect to raise 45% by 2040. So as you can see much electricity is still running on non-renewable energies making your webpage (maybe) not running on renewable energy.

Many hosting providers are quite secrete about mentioning the sources of the energy used, and greenwashing is practiced by many, so it becomes quite difficult to choose the right hosting for it ( In the last post of this series I will focus on resources to check that situation).

So by not running your website on green hosting (hosting that is served by renewable energy), the Carbon footprint of it becomes bigger.

Even that many big companies nowadays use exclusively renewable energy for hosting ( and sometimes it can be difficult to achieve that) the truth is some bigger players are not yet fully committed to it.

  • Web Performance

Web performance is also a problem when it comes to sustainability on the web. I know, I am back at it again but with a website optimized for performance you can achieve much more than you might think. 

If your website is slow if you are misleading your customers to stay more time on your website then they should make it difficult to access some button or info. Your customers will spend more( unnecessary) time on your website, spending more time on the internet and spending more electricity, therefore a bigger carbon footprint. I will address more this topic when I will talk about solutions in the next week.

The energy of your website is also determined by the size of the page and that means that the more files, images, and videos your website has, the bigger the size, the slower it gets and more electricity it will consume.

I believe that not from the developer side or the client side, nobody wants to build a website that is going to be heavy and consuming a lot of energy. The truth is that adding a new picture, a carousel of images, more videos, unnecessary pages makes step by step your website slow and more energy-consuming.

  • Emails and Video Calls

We’ve been sending emails for a long time and we don’t even realize anymore. We write and press send and there it goes. Truth is that a simple (unnecessary) email can spend 1 gCo2 and an email with attachments and long text can reach up to 50. And that’s per email. Only in 2020, over 300 billion emails were sent in total.

Video calls are not recent but Covid made them a must every day at all times. But are they all necessary? An hour of streaming can use up to 1000g of CO2. An ultra-definition video call is an equivalent of driving 23km.

These are just a few examples of how “small” things we do in our website and/or company can affect the environment and our or in this case your company's carbon footprint.

Next week I will focus on the solutions that we apply to a website/ company that can reduce the environmental impact.

Web sustainability is a world inside a world and needs to be addressed fast to the majority of people.

 I am no expert myself but by sharing I am learning and hopefully reach someone to also start taking small steps that lead to big steps into a better sustainable world.

You can follow me on Twitter where lately I have been focusing on building a project/ product by sharing all the processes.

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