If you’re trying to save the planet, do not forget the net

You may be forgiven for thinking that the digital world has a low environmental cost.

Sending an email or joining an online conference must be cleaner than meeting in person, right? Well, not quite.

Smartphones, computers, Wi-Fi and servers all emit carbon dioxide. Our internet habits are adding to worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

In fact, around 3% of the world’s carbon emissions now come from the electricity used to power the internet.

This is approximately the same amount as the global aviation industry! This continues to grow at an alarming rate.

ECC’s carbon commitment

Here at ECC we have a large web estate which has grown to over 90 public facing websites over the years.

We’re working hard to bring that number down for lots of reasons. One reason is to reduce the carbon footprint of our web estate in its current form.

We have an organisational target to make Essex carbon neutral by 2050.

It’s vital that we educate ourselves on the environmental impact of our digital services, prompt action across teams and benchmark progress.

We must develop an ongoing programme of improvement in this area.

Finding out how much carbon our websites use

We recently worked with Wholegrain Digital, a specialist web sustainability agency. They ran an audit of focusing on 5 pieces of data to estimate the GHG emissions.

You can read more about these methods on Wholegrain’s website.

This provided us with the following insights:

  • emits around 1,000KG of CO2e every year – that’s equal to making approximately 141,531 cups of tea!
  • We could save 60kg of CO2e by our digital service providers switching their servers to ones powered by renewable energy (web host checked against The Green Web Foundation database of green hosts)
  • We could make further savings by reducing page size in certain areas of the site e.g. the news section. It’s recommended each web page weighs no more than 0.5MB. Most of our web pages fall under that, but the top-level news page (/news) weighs in at 2.66MB.

Wholegrain also made training resources so we can run carbon audits on ECC websites ourselves. This means using a website crawler to identify all the live pages on each website and get data such as page size.

The information is then combined with page view data from Google Analytics to give us an estimation of the emissions from each page.

The aim of this work is to compare results across the web estate. To identify common themes and pinpoint any particularly poor performing sites.

So far, we’ve focused on 10 websites and already have a much clearer idea of the elements driving up GHG emissions.

We’ve started to communicate the initial results with key stakeholders across relevant services and engage with climate action colleagues. We’re beginning to plan how we take this work forward in line with the organisation’s wider climate agenda.

Next steps

We still have lots to digest and share with various areas of the organisation. Our aim is to ensure websites aren’t overlooked in plans to reduce ECC’s carbon footprint.

Going forward we plan to conduct further audits and regular performance reporting, educate teams based on our findings, and establish best practice guidance to help services procure and maintain websites in a way that’s kind to the planet.

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  1. Comment by Caroline M posted on

    Brilliant blog post Laura! Thanks for sharing those interesting facts and giving us food for thought about how our digital estate can be kinder to the environment.

  2. Comment by david posted on

    Have you included the data used by the public to download documents? I worked out my website does about 25 tonne each year if you include downloads.


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