If you bring up the “carbon footprint of the web” it is likely you will get a mask of astonishment from web designers, visual designers, and web devs. After all, they are “intentionally green” in their lifestyle, and push clean pixels around (instead of dirty coal) for a living.
However, the numbers are beginning to add up. When I started this blog several years ago, the Internet might have used 3% of worldwide electricity. Now, according to a new study, it will use 20 percent of global electricity consumption and up to 5.5 percent of all carbon emissions by the year 2025.
In other words, your decisions for websites, apps, rich media – either lean, user-oriented, high-performance, short downloads…or big, slow, full of microanimations and rich media – count 6 times more than they did, in say 2011.
Also, choices in hosting – nearly all so-called “green” web hosts actually just buy the equivalent of carbon credits are significant. According to the study, data centers alone (not counting the routers, cables, satellite links, and other parts of the actual Internet) account for 3.2% of all carbon emissions.
US researchers now expect internet power consumption to triple over the next five years as one billion more people in developing countries come online while IoT, robots, driverless cars, artificial intelligence and video surveillance grow exponentially in rich countries.
The “green”, yet high-tech future is strangely mixed with ever-more energy-hungry devices. So, we have the contrast of designers and developers creating all this high-tech – while (typically) acting like they are eco-green to the max.
The disconnect between designers, in their cool, clean lofts – creating ever-more carbon-intensive “art”, “design”, and “tech” – while lobbing bricks at those dirty rednecks mining coal – is fascinating.
When you’re in a glass house…
All it takes to start is optimizing your websites, apps, etc. This can be done at two levels:
Using Web Performance Optimization (WPO) to reduce the bulkiness of your content
Developing a ‘content strategy’ that favors less carbon-intensive content (read: text instead of video)
A good example of the first, (with an actual energy calculation!) may be found in this WPDEV article on Smush, an image-compression plugin for WordPress.
As the article notes, just requiring Smush on WordPress sites would lead to real reductions in emissions – since WordPress makes up the largest single CMS on the web.
Not bad, and not hard.
People in glass houses….