What does the green web mean for businesses?
Read the word, ‘pollution’. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Travel and transportation; jet engines, diesel lorries. Construction; power plants, cement processing, heavy industry. These may be the most obvious sources but what if we told you – as you read this article, browsing the web – every search you make, every webpage you click on, every tab you open generates a carbon footprint, and it could be more than you think.
In their 2012 Digital Universe study, IDC predicted that by 2020, there would be 40 zettabytes (1) of data in existence. This prediction was confirmed when the World Economic Forum reported 44 zettabytes in January 2020. If you were to express this data on A4 paper, the stack would reach all the way to the moon and back, 13.5 times. But that was in 2020. The World Economic Forum predicts 149 zettabytes by 2024; that’s one byte for every third grain of sand (2) on every sandy coastline on earth.
It is an age of mass information: datasets, metadata, browser data, count data, binary data, source code, raw text, cookies. You can read more than ever before and it’s more than just prose. But all this data has to be gathered, structured, sorted, and stored. Servers sometimes so numerous and vast that they fill an entire room, an entire floor, a building. Data centres collecting and compiling information day and night. These are often million-watt installations and the lights are always on (3). ‘Next Generation Data’ in Wales, the largest data centre in the UK, second-largest in Europe (4) : 750,000 sq ft, 19,000 servers, 240MW. In 2021, data centres around the world consumed 220 – 320 TWh, that is 0.9 to 1.3 % of total human electricity (5), according to the International Energy Agency.
OK, you say, so what? Lots of data, lots of machines, lots of power – what does this have to do with sustainability?
Enter the green web.
The green web, despite its name, is not a separate internet. In fact, it’s not really an entity at all, rather an idea, a set of principles. The idea: the web should run on entirely renewable energy; to make the internet carbon neutral, a completely sustainable resource. On the face of it, this seems like complete overhaul. “The internet is the world’s largest coal-powered machine,” says the Green Web Foundation. According to Netcraft, there were just under 1.14 billion websites live on the internet in July 2022, and most are hosted by servers by powered by non-renewable energy.
But you, as an individual, as part of a business, can make a big difference with small changes – particularly if you’re reading this as a part of a web design agency. How? Simple: green-
host your website.
What does it mean to ‘green-host’ your website? Broadly defined, ‘green-hosting’ applies to any method that reduces the carbon footprint of your website, including offsetting methods, such as planting trees, or expanding green-space. More precisely, however, green-hosting means hosting your website with a server than runs on renewable energy. Many hosting companies have a green-hosting option – often, it is provided at no extra cost. Contact your web-hosting provider to find out if your website is green-hosted, and if it is not, find out whether this service is provided. If your hosting provider does not offer a green-hosting service, it is typically an easy process to change provider and doesn’t have to cost you more.
In addition to green-hosting, another way you can make your website more environmentally friendly is by following principles of sustainable web-design. A fast-loading webpage, for example, may use less energy because it takes less time to load. Certain features on a webpage that may cause it to run less quickly – animations, pre-loaded video, auto-streaming, and poor optimisation are all features that can be avoided or improved with sustainable design. This does not always mean reducing the features of your website; a 2021 campaign by Volkswagen, for example, rendered pictures on the ID.4 site using ASCII text (6). The resulting style, which was highly distinctive, drew readers’ attention to both the car (a new electric vehicle) and Volkswagen’s sustainability campaign.
OK, this all sounds great. Very trendy. But why should I bother?
If the primary benefit here – that is the benefit to the planet, which is good in itself – is not enough, consider the following
- “The popularity of Google searches relating to sustainable goods has increase by 71% since 2016.(7)”
- “48% of US consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment (8)”.
Consumers care about the planet. Consumers like, or at least prefer, businesses who care about the planet. There is a wider movement here. It’s a movement for positive change and has empowered many people who might be otherwise silent, unengaged within the political and environmental process. People are beginning to feel good about sustainability. It feels good to help the planet. And by being part of this movement, you can feel good too. Tell everyone who’ll listen that you’ve green-hosted your website, planted a thousand trees, rolled around on the new grass outside your office; it’ll bring a smile, it may encourage other businesses to do the same. It may attract new customers and also staff who share your green ethos. So go on, do it today – green-host
your website and feel good.
If you would like to discuss green-hosting or sustainable web design then please contact Shaun at SOZO on firstname.lastname@example.org.
- A zettabyte is 1 x 10 ^ 21 btyes, that is 1 followed by 21 zeros.
- According to the Boffins Portal [https://boffinsportal.com/how-many-grains-of-sand-are-there-in-the-world/], there are 4.6 x 10 ^ 23 grains of sand on earth (excluding sand in rivers). 149 zettabtyes is 1.49 x 10 ^ 23 bytes.
- Some of the most cutting edge data centres have the capacity to operate almost entirely without physical human access. These installations are known as “lights-out” data centres, and contrary to the phrase used in this paragraph, the lights are rarely, perhaps never, on.
- Portugal Telecom is 800,000 sq ft.
- “Excluding energy for cryptocurrency mining, which was 100 – 140 TWh in 2021” [Source: https://www.iea.org/reports/data-centres-and-data-transmission-networks]
- Economist Intellgience Unit, https://explore.panda.org/eco-wakening
- Nielsen, https://nielseniq.com/global/en/insights/analysis/2018/was-2018-the-year-of-the-influential-sustainable-consumer