How digital activities affect the environment

We’ve been taught that ‘going paperless’ is a sustainable approach, yet as technology continues to evolve and we become more reliant, our digital footprint increases.

What is a digital footprint and how can this affect the environment?  

Every time you go online, you create a digital footprint that adds to your overall digital identity. Even activities as simple as liking posts on Facebook and Instagram contribute to the accumulation of data stored on servers. All these tiny actions make up the web print that follows you wherever you go in the digital realm. 

How many people use the internet, and what emissions does it cause?  

 According to Internet World Stats, there are approximately 1.8 billion websites running online, drawing in over 4 billion daily visitors. 37% of global emissions are from the internet.  

The internet alone causes emissions of approximately 2,330,041 tons of CO2 and consumes 2,339,400 MWh of electricity daily. To put that last statistic into perspective, just 1 MWh of electricity is enough to power 330 homes with electricity for one hour. 

‘Green websites’ are simple, easy to click through, stripped back, and accessible. Examples of this are Low Tech Magazine – which produces just 0.24g of CO2 per page view; in contrast, a site with video autoplay features, such as 11 Coffee & Co, generates a hefty 10.08g of CO2 per page view. 

Interest in digital sustainability is growing. To date, over 1,360 individuals and companies, including Google, have signed the Sustainable Web Manifesto since 2019, pledging their commitment to creating a more sustainable internet.  

The perfect opportunity to make a positive difference and put your business ahead of the trend, right? 

How can the marketing industry reduce its digital footprint?  

When we think of helping the environment, we would traditionally think of methods such as recycling. But, what if we implemented sustainability at every stage – not just at the end?  

What would this look like in our everyday marketing activities? If we imagine the planet as a stakeholder in a company, it forces us to think about sustainability at every decision stage. Day-to-day, this might look like: 

  • Reusing digital material as much as possible, for example, social imagery 
  • Using fewer stock images on your website 
  • Avoiding the use of ‘auto-play’ on videos on your website  
  • Not gathering any data that you don’t need 
  • Moving to a renewable energy website host 

Emails are a relatively small contributor to your digital footprint – still, one email emits 10g of CO2 which is the same carbon footprint as a plastic bag. For your business to follow suit in operating (and communicating) more sustainably, it would be worth trying these steps…  

How to reduce the carbon footprint of your emails:

  • Only send an email if you really need to 
  • Ensure all relevant information is in one email, rather than relying on follow-ups
  • Reduce the size of attachments where possible or link to online resources
  • Delete all spam 
  • Unsubscribe from online newsletters that you don’t read  
  • Delete any emails you no longer need 

Taking it back to the statistics, the carbon footprint of the internet and connected devices account for 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions (which is more than the airline industry) and this is expected to double in 2025. Consumers and clients are responding to these statistics and demanding more sustainable business practices. In order to both attract and retain talent and see an increase in prospective clients, the marketing industry has to be able to demonstrate clear environmental goals and be transparent about current sustainability practices.  

If you are keen to find out your website’s current carbon footprint, use this helpful resource

Jeremy Taylor
Date: 2nd May 2023
Category: Blog CSR

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