By: Amy Czuba, senior account manager at Nexer Digital
Despite the progress being made by many organisations to minimise the physical environmental impact of operations, buildings or supply chains, digital footprints are often overlooked.
Digital has a huge carbon footprint,which stems back to the hosting of digital products and services on large servers at data centres, whichrequire constant powering and cooling. Annually, the internet produces the same amount of carbon as Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangladesh, The Philippines, Sri Lanka and Mongolia combined. Digital haseven overtaken the airline industry in the amount of CO2 emissions produced. Yet, manyorganisations underestimateor remain unaware that they need to take digital’s footprint into account within wider sustainability efforts and strategies. For example, a company may have worked to successfully power 100% of its buildings by renewable energy but may not have considered the environmental impact and efficiency of their digital products and services.
While consumption of the internet and technology is something of an inevitability, there are steps organisations can take to reduce their digital carbon footprint and align their online presence with their wider sustainability philosophies.
- Audit the current impact of digital – Firstly, it’s important to conduct a thorough audit to take stock off how you currently use digital products and services, and what the environmental impact of this is. It shouldtake into account everything from how digital data is used and stored to the carbon output of your website (this can be calculated using anonline tool) and the devicesthat are used for access. Not only does this help identify key areas for improvement, but it also creates a benchmark for progress to be measured against.
- Consider more sustainable servers and hosting – One of the easiest and most impactful ways for an organisation to minimise the impact of its servers is to use green-powered data centres. Another is to consider the move from dedicated on-premiseservers to cloud-based servers. Dedicated servers typically generate far more wasted energy and are more expensive to run, while cloud servers may allow organisations to only pay for the services they require.
When it comes to hosting, organisations should check that their existing or prospective service provider has a sustainability statement, and that it alignswiththeir wider strategy. The Green Web Foundationhas a directory of sustainable hosts, which is a useful resource if an existing host isn’t ticking all the boxes.
- Consider how data is used and stored – Unbeknown to many, storing unnecessary data is a key carbon emitter. Organisationsshould consider the different types of data generated and held, and whether storing it is necessary.You may have servers full of documents that are surplus to requirement, for example, or email retention policies could mean you’restoring emails from five or more years ago that are not of use.By instilling good habits, such as deleting all emails over two or three years old, and removing duplicate files as they’re identified, having a clean out doesn’t need to be an onerous process.
- Creating a less energy-intensive website – The more complex a webpage is, the harder a server has to work to load it, and the more polluting it can be. Large images, videos and design choices can put more strain on the bandwidth, which requires the website to use more energy and emit more carbon.There are a number of ways you can make your website less energy-intensive, including compressing webpages and implementing a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to cache resources so they don’t have to be downloaded from the server each time.
- Being mindful of emails–Approximatley hundreds, if not thousands, of emails, are sent and received within a single organisation each day.Considering that a single email can emit 10g of carbonor 50g if sent with an attachment, email makes up an important part of an effective digital sustainability strategy. Being more mindful of email practices are key. Email chains that reach several recipients at once can be incredibly harmful to the environment, so consider whether you need to send to multiple recipients at a time, and make sure that documents, images and videos are only sent as attachments when necessary.
- Content optimisation – Ensuring information is architected in a clear and understandable way benefits user experienceand allows visitors to quickly find the information they are looking for. Not only does this reduce carbon emissions, but it has the added benefit of making content more accessible while optimising it for search engine visibility.
Digitalfootprintsare key to a solid sustainability strategy and should play a key part in corporate social responsibility efforts. As with other areas of your sustainability strategy, reducing your digital carbon footprint requires effort and understanding, but by investing the time and resource, these changes can make a significant difference.