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It’s time for the internet to become more sustainable


Airplanes, cattle, monster trucks – we know these have a large carbon footprint. Digital activities, on the other hand, sometimes go under the radar. Consider, for example, the carbon contribution of web search. All data held by websites is stored on servers, which consumes energy. Data centers, rooms filled to the ceiling – sometimes the size of many football pitches – with rows of servers, account for about one percent of global electricity consumption, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) Monitoring Report 2021.

According to the IEA report, data center power consumption has remained stable since at least 2010, even as Internet traffic has grown exponentially. The organization attributes the consistency in part to the continuous improvements in energy efficiency that data center technologies have experienced. But the IEA also warns that global internet traffic continues to grow. Between 2017 and 2020, traffic more than doubled, and it could double again by 2023, the report says. At some point, it makes sense to temper the web’s demand for energy. So what is needed in the quest for a more sustainable web?

The sustainable web is just beginning…

The field of sustainable web design is still nascent, but some groups have created energy-efficient sites and processes. Recently, a new coalition of American and European businesses and non-governmental organizations came together focusing on the environmental impact of the Internet. The group includes organizations such as The Green Web Foundation, which has a vision for a Fossil-free internet by 2030and companies like EcoPingwhich offers a range of tools to reduce website carbon emissions.

The collaboration resulted in a platform, SustainableWebDesign.org, where creators of web technologies can find methods, recommendations and tools to help them create sustainable products and services. The basis of all coalition offerings is the Sustainable Web Manifesto, which includes six principles that touch on environmental impact, but also extend to social impact – like truly embracing the triple bottom line. These principles include the use of clean energy, efficiency in the use of resources, as well as accessibility to all users and a non-exploitative design.

…and he needs your help

When it comes to why an organization or business would align with the Sustainable Web Manifesto, contributors made a compelling case for the urgency of climate change. They write: “The planet is experiencing unprecedented climate change and the internet is both part of the problem and part of the solution. From websites to cryptocurrencies, the internet consumes vast amounts of electricity in data centers, telecommunications networks, and end-user devices. If the Internet were a country, it would be the 7th polluter in the world and is expected to grow considerably by 2030.”

Climate impacts are a very practical consideration, as Tim Frick, chairman and founder of Mightybytes – one of the new coalition’s lead organizations – told TriplePundit in an email interview: “…the climate crisis is This is the existential crisis of our time. It impacts every business, non-profit organization, government agency and, most importantly, every individual in the world, especially our most vulnerable communities.

Frick adds that limiting greenhouse gas emissions to the extent necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement is a challenge. “While it may seem daunting, progress begins when everyone takes one small step. It’s ours,” he said.

A few small steps to take on the way to a cleaner web

Where can someone like a web developer start? Well, according to Frick, who has been working on this progressive vision of the web since 2011, those involved in website building should take it as a learning journey. Lists of coalition online hubs strategies for every step of the web development process, from design and development to “client and project ethics”. Along the way, those who want to decarbonize websites will learn how to estimate carbon emissions, make necessary adjustments for efficiency and performance, use green web hosts, and stay up to date through newsletters and updates. other publications. The resources are all compiled on the new website — ready to use.

One of the coalition’s biggest projects has been to develop a method for calculating digital emissions and integrating it into existing tools. Standardization was key. “Our collective goal is to create resources that provide consistent emissions estimates,” said Tom Greenwood, managing director of Wholegrain Digital, a London-based B Corp certified company, in a press release. “When you get different results from numerical carbon calculation tools that are basically meant to do the same thing, it sends a confusing message. It could cause people to underestimate the shows, or worse, do nothing at all.”

The group recently met with the standards-creating World Wide Web Consortium to create guidelines similar to those established for the successful Web Accessibility Initiative. Last year, for example, Colorado passed a law requiring the websites of state and local public entities to meet accessibility standards. As it develops digital sustainability standards, the coalition is actively seeking additional collaborators. Interested parties can contact the Contact form from the Sustainable Web Design website.

Image credit: Palace of Israel via Unsplash