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Digital has a carbon footprint too…

Digital has a large and growing carbon footprint. What can be done about it?

By James Evelegh

Digital has a carbon footprint too…

OK, you knew that, but I think it’s fair to say that digital’s carbon footprint has traditionally got a lot less attention than print’s.

In an excellent article in the upcoming Sep/Oct issue of InPublishing magazine (not on the mailing list? Register here), John Barnes notes that, “internet usage makes up 4% of global CO2 emissions per annum or the equivalent of all the world’s air traffic.”

And the trend seems to be upwards: “The median desktop page transfer size has grown from 1.4MB in 2018 to 2.2MB for desktop sites and 2MB for mobile sites in 2022.”

To make matters worse, generative AI, the new and rapidly growing kid on the internet block, is particularly resource heavy. It “not only needs energy to process and transmit data, but also water and electricity to cool down servers and chips.”

In his article, John outlines the causes and what we can do to reduce our footprint. Without wanting to steal his thunder, here are some of the things that particularly stood out for me:

  • How you build your website is crucial: “a website built with robust and efficient materials will perform better and be more sustainable.”
  • Where your websites are hosted has a big impact on carbon footprints. Is your data centre constructed in the right way? Is it efficient and well optimised?
  • Heavy images are a big contributor to having a larger than necessary carbon footprint. Are you optimising the images you put on your site and using the appropriate file formats?
  • Publishers need to work together: “We must be open to the fact that we can’t know everything, and even if five out of ten things are being done well, there might be other elements that one media owner hasn’t considered, and another has.”

Digital has a much bigger footprint than we might imagine, but the good news is that there is lots of room for improvement.

You can catch James Evelegh’s regular column in the InPubWeekly newsletter, which you can register to receive here.