Carbon cost of clicks – how to cut your website's impact

By Ed Nicholson, Brand Experience Director, Organic
Organic's Brand Experience Director Ed Nicholson on how brands can measure their online environmental impact and take action to reduce CO2 impact

Dirty websites aren’t what you think.

You might be surprised to learn that the average company website produces 1.76g of carbon dioxide (CO2) for every page view. To put this into context a site with about 100,000 page views per month emits 2,112 kg of CO2 each year.

Even as ESG rises up the boardroom agenda, the carbon cost of customer clicks is mounting. It’s time for brands to take action.

It’s true to say consumers are already savvy about the environmental impact of business. Activism is on the rise: a 2021 survey by Deloitte revealed almost a third of people have stopped buying certain products because of environmental concerns. According to the research there’s a growing trend for people to try to lead greener lives.

Most brands are aware of this this. In response they cut packaging, switch logistics and extol their ESG virtues. But many are still overlooking the environmental impact of their company websites.

Awareness is key to the war on web waste

Organic recently surveyed 1,000 consumers to uncover how they feel about the carbon emissions generated from well-known brand websites. More than half (52%) really care about their online carbon footprint. If a brand offered a version of their site that reduced its carbon impact, 70% of respondents said they’d use it instead of the original version.

In addition, almost two-thirds of consumers (63%) claimed they’d buy another brand ahead of their usual choice if the brand website was changed to cause lower carbon emissions. 

Despite this desire to do better, more than one in four consumers (28%) don’t realise that using electronic devices to access digital content has a carbon impact.

In other words, the findings show that the more people who understand the carbon cost of their clicks the louder the clamour for cleaner commerce will be.

The CO2 impact of the web is substantial. Estimates place it on a par with the aviation industry. While we don't hear much about it and don't physically see emissions pouring out of our TV when we binge on Netflix, the internet’s carbon impact still exists. What’s more, web carbon emissions continue to grow by around 9% a year. The problem is worsening as the world consumes more digital services and products.

But change is in motion. Google is in the vanguard of firms taking the lead by introducing eco-friendly features such as ‘green tags’ in search results, and carbon emissions per seat when using Google Flights. Many others are tackling the problem too.

Measuring your online environmental impact

While you’d be right to think the solution to this web dilemma is complex, there are clear ways to clean up your site. Technologies and the teams that use them can become a solution, playing a huge part in helping firms achieve their ESG goals.

The most obvious starting point is to measure and track the carbon impact of your end-to-end operations - including your website (Organic has rolled out an easy-to-use online tool to do this).

To estimate the CO2 impact of a website, there are five assessment areas:

  1. Data transfer 
  2. Energy intensity 
  3. Energy source used by data centres 
  4. Carbon intensity of electricity 
  5. Website traffic

Using Google’s PageSpeed API and a CO2 module developed by the Green Web Foundation – an organisation committed to transitioning to a fossil-free internet – it’s possible to perform a web-page audit to calculate emissions from the page.

Once that’s known, it’s time to take action to reduce CO2 impact by looking into factors such as code efficiency, green hosting and energy-heavy features such as videos.

There are several initial steps businesses can take to help reduce their carbon impact. These include switching to a green host and using dark mode by default, to minimising energy-intensive elements such as large videos and images.

Concern for the environment is increasingly on people’s minds, and brands are taking note. Now’s the time for them to lead by example, making websites greener and cleaner - not only to attract more customers but more importantly to lead the charge towards change.

Any other approach just isn’t sustainable.

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