Digital media is more eco-friendly than analogue, right? Um... not really! But there are things we can do to reduce the environmental impact of our online lives. The Website Carbon Calculator can work out the carbon footprint of any website - and gives you tips on how to make your own online presence more sustainable.
Until recently, we've thought that using the internet and digital tools is good for the environment. Reading newspapers online saved paper, of course, and streaming music meant fewer CDs being produced. All of those analogue resources had been replaced by invisible streams of data. But a closer look at the statistics has revealed that in reality things look very different: our appetite for data is fuelled by a huge amount of energy - currently around 416.2 terawatts per year, to be precise. That's equivalent to the electricity consumption of the entire United Kingdom! From data centres to transmission networks and the devices we hold in our hands, everything along the digital chain consumes energy and is responsible for rising CO2 emissions. Not to mention all of the resources used, and CO2 emitted, in the manufacture of our favourite digital gadgets.
A recent report by the carbon emission think-tank The Shift Project calculates that ICT currently contributes to about 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions - twice as much as the aviation industry. And to make that worse, its contribution is growing more swiftly. We urgently need to address how to reduce our ever-growing digital carbon footprint. If we're to find a solution, we need to working out exactly what it is that is using all of that energy. Fortunately, research is catching up. It has been shown, for example, that streaming moving images is the number one cause of carbon emissions in the digital world and that the billions of search queries made around the world add up to many, many tons of CO2. You can find out more in our latest long-read: Our Digital Carbon Footprint: What's the Environmental Impact of the Online World?
A carbon calculator for your website
Alongside all the video, music and email services that we use, there are also other things that have an impact on carbon emissions - and website design is one of them. An average website produces 4.61 grams of CO2 for every page view. For websites that have an average of 10,000 page views per month, that makes 553 kilograms of CO2 per year. But there are ways for programmers and owners to reduce the carbon footprint of their websites. The Website Carbon Calculator - designed by Wholegrain Digital - is one great example. Enter the URL of any website, and it will calculate the estimated CO2 emissions and also give you tips on how they could be reduced.
The Carbon Calculator takes five key pieces of data into account when calculating a website's CO2 emissions, with the help of which the team promises to be able to make a fairly good estimate:
- Data transfer over the wire (The data transferred over the wire when a web page is loaded.)
- Energy intensity of web data (Energy is used at the data centre, telecoms networks and by the end user’s computer or mobile device. As this varies for each website and visitor, an average value is used.)
- The energy source used by the data centre (They check the Green Web Foundation (GWF) database to see if the data centre is using green energy.)
- Carbon intensity of electricity (Using an international averages)
- Website traffic
All of this information together gives you a pretty good idea of the emissions that the average user produces when visiting a certain site.
Currently, the Calculator only analyses the start page of a website, but Wholegrain Digital plans to publish an extended version which will make it possible to test certain internal pages later on.
It's over to you!
At the end of the calculation, a number appears on the screen. But what does the number actually mean? The Website Calculator offers you a hand here too - by displaying comparative values and recommending a range of particularly energy-efficient websites. Those websites tend to use compressed images, efficient file formats and "light" fonts, avoiding overloading the network. They also use a green web hosting service.
Equipped with all that information, it's over to use to optimise your website to be as eco-friendly as possible. You can find more tips on how to design a sustainable website right here: 17 ways to make your website more energy efficient.