As a business owner in New Zealand, you might not think that your website or online presence could have a significant impact on the environment. However, the truth is that the internet is a major contributor to pollution and carbon emissions. In this blog, we'll explore why the internet is polluting and what small business owners in New Zealand can do to reduce their carbon footprint.
The internet is responsible for approximately 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the entire aviation industry. This may come as a surprise to many, but when you think about it, the internet is everywhere and we use it for almost everything. From streaming movies to online shopping, every time we use the internet, we are contributing to carbon emissions1.
One of the biggest reasons that the internet consumes so much energy is due to data centres, where all the data and information that makes up the internet is stored. Data centres are essentially large warehouses that store servers and other computer equipment that power the internet. They require constant cooling and electricity to function, which is why they consume so much energy. Many data centres are powered by non-renewable sources such as coal, oil and natural gas. This means that they are contributing to the pollution and carbon emissions that are harming our planet. The constant need for data storage and processing requires a significant amount of energy, and as a result, data centres have become some of the largest consumers of energy in the world.
Data centres store your data, images, emails. They also house everything we stream and all the websites we browse.
Another factor that contributes to the internet's carbon footprint is the size of websites. Back in the 90s when we all waited for our computers to load websites line by line, designers were careful to keep websites data-light. After all, no-one wanted to wait ten minutes to join a chat room. Now websites load in a matter of seconds. Irrespective of the amount of data. Web designers often rely on templates and bloated website builders because it’s quick and easy to build websites this way.
Websites are getting larger every year. This graph shows average page weight from 2011 to 2021.
Despite the significant impact that the internet has on the environment, there is some good news. Many companies and data centres are working towards reducing their carbon footprint and adopting renewable energy sources.. And as Google starts to use a website’s load speed as a factor in ranking more and more sites will slim down.
In the meantime, use the internet wisely (and find a web developer who cares 😉).
And here's a few statistics2:
A Google search:
The world’s ICT accounts for 1.4 billion tonnes CO2e. Of which:
1 Why your internet habits are not as clean as you think - BBC Future , 2020
2 Berners-Lee, Mike, "How bad are bananas?", Profile Books, 2020
3 CO2e stands for Carbon dioxide equivalent. Carbon dioxide is the primary baddie in global warming pollution, but other greenhouse gases are important. For example, methane (CH4) is released in smaller quantities but is 75 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide (N2O) and refrigerants are respectively 300 times and thousands of times more potent. All these gases are taken into account, and expressed as CO2e.
Only 0.24g of CO2 is produced every time someone visits our homepage. That's less than 20% of a normal website!