Let’s green the Web

Let’s Green The Web is a five-day Twitter campaign starting this week (Monday 15) to encourage and support everybody to measure the carbon emissions of websites and share tweets highlighting the results.

Let’s Green The Web aims to “both encourage, as well as support, those who run websites to take action and reduce their carbon emissions. An important note is that we have a desire for encouraging positive behaviour change and building community. We are all in this together and collectively want to see a future with more carbon-friendly websites. Reaching out to others to talk about this problem in a constructive way is key if we want others to respond and take action.”

This is a wonderful initiative and happens in conjunction with the launch of Tom Greenwood’s really important book, Sustainable Web Design. Awareness of these issues is rising. Last week I read an article about how Volkswagen Canada has launched a sustainable website for its EV vehicles.

In 1994, there were 3,000 websites. In 2019, there were estimated to be 1.7 billion, almost one website for every three people on the planet. Not only has the number of websites exploded, the weight of each page has also skyrocketed. Between 2003 and 2019, the average webpage weight grew from about 100 KB to about 4 MB. The results?

“In our analysis of 5.2 million pages,” Brian Dean reported for Backlinko in 2019, “the average time it takes to fully load a webpage is 10.3 seconds on desktop and 27.3 seconds on mobile.” In 2013, Radware calculated that the average load time for a webpage on mobile was 4.3 seconds.

The curse of digital is the curse of the “almost nothing” cost. Over the years, article after article has told us that it costs almost nothing to send an email, to watch a Netflix movie. In fact, some commentators almost encourage us to glutton out on digital because relatively speaking it’s much better to have an online meeting than to get in a car or catch a flight.

Yes, without question, flying to a meeting creates massively more pollution than having that meeting online. However, what are rarely calculated in the costs of the online meetings are the pollution costs of the devices used for those meetings. It is in device manufacture that 80% of digital waste occurs. Last year, we produced over 50 million tons of e-waste, with less than 20% of it being recycled.

And that “almost nothing” cost of sending emails or watching Netflix? In 2020, there were over 300 billion emails sent every single day. We have produced more data in the last two years than in all of previous history. We are now producing zettabytes of data, an almost unimaginable amount. 90% of this data is not used. It’s crap. 90% of most websites I’ve worked on are crap. 90% crap code, 90% crap images, 90% crap videos, 90% crap text. Useless junk.

In digital we have become so lazy. It costs “almost nothing” to create this, to publish this, to store this. The most dangerous cost of all is the cost closest to zero.

We must think far more so that we produce far less crap. We must organize and manage and maintain and archive and remove and delete far more. To embrace sustainability we must embrace conservation of energy and resources, and the best way to do that is to pursue a mission of zero waste.

Let's Green The Web campaign

Sustainable Web Design, Tom Greenwood

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
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