Low-carbon websites to cut emissions

  • Transmitting data for a website requires energy consumption, which is responsible for the emission of carbon dioxide. Lighter websites consume lower energy.
  • According to a 2015 study, data centres’ CO2 emissions are comparable to those of the aviation industry.
  • A website’s annual CO2 emission was reduced by more than 95% after it was redesigned to minimise data usage.

With the world becoming increasingly digital, the reliance on the internet and internet-enabled devices have also increased. However, increased digitisation leads to higher carbon emissions. To tackle this issue, proponents of sustainable technology have started espousing “low-carbon websites” that are optimised to minimise data usage and reduce their carbon footprint.

In fact, the rising dependence on the internet during the pandemic has caused a surge in carbon emissions.

The Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC), which is a group of individuals across the country working towards climate change and advocating sustainable lifestyle, has developed a low-carbon website. Reportedly, it’s the only known low-carbon website in the country.

After the website was revamped, the INECC reduced the yearly carbon dioxide emissions arising out of people visiting their website by around 500 kilogrammes a year, according to an estimate.

While the previous design of the website would cause emission of 517 kg of CO2 a year for 10,000 page views, the redesigned website would lead to emission of only 24.6 kg of CO2. In other words, the INECC website’s CO2 emission reduced by more than 95% upon optimising it.

“Using Information Technology [IT] has its environmental impacts owing to high electricity use. This situation won’t change unless there is a fast and large shift to better efficiency of electricity usage and a shift to renewable sources of energy for electricity generation,” Priyadarshini Karve, executive committee member, INECC, told Mongabay-India.

Experts say that reducing the usage of graphics and drop-down menus, and replacing them with JPEGs and GIFs could reduce the page weight. Using compressed images and videos could significantly reduce the page load. Finding local data centres or switching to the cloud for storage is also advised for reducing the carbon emissions from a website. Similarly, writing clean code while minimising the usage of high-resolution images, or moving to cleaner forms of energy for hosting can also reduce the carbon footprint.

Building a low-carbon website

Myron Mendes, communications and community relations, INECC, said the idea for a low-carbon website cropped up in 2018. While they were revamping their website, they were looking to bring a sustainability element, and after a lot of research, they realised that no website developer in India could help them with their initiative, he added.

Charlene Sequeira, who designed the user interface of the website, mentioned that though a major chunk of the world’s graphics and website development is carried out in India, it was difficult to find a professional who could walk that extra mile and bring sustainable solutions on the table. They reached out to a Portugal-based group to help with their project.

Pedro Reis, a member from Komuhn, a Portugal-based design company, which helped the INECC build the back-end, stated that a majority of low-carbon websites are built by amateurs. “The main reason for developers seeking better performance for their websites is not because they’re thinking of the environment. It is because of the pressure from search engines that rank a website on how efficient it is,” he stated.

Reis added that with improving internet and WiFi services, websites are getting bigger and more energy-consuming. “It is common for websites to have pages for blogs, videos, social media and galleries, and there’s heavy duplication of content. The creators have to be mindful about the giant footprint it leaves after the user has visited,” he mentioned.

One of the simpler ways to bring sustainability in the website is to use the nearest hosting provider for the website, he advised. “This way the website during the search doesn’t have to travel across geographic locations in other continents to fetch the result,” he said.

He further warned that website developers will have to start thinking about changing their mindset. “People in various sectors like the lifestyle, environment, agricultural practices, and even the government have started thinking on those lines, and, sooner or later, the web developers community will have to change or will be made to change through policies,” he noted.

“A person visits the website for hardly a few seconds. Probably they will spend little time in filling a form or finding a contact. We need to start thinking whether we should spend so much energy and resources for such tasks,” Reis said.

Applying the same basic principles, they created the website for the INECC, Reis added. They only used commonly used elements and discarded the rest. Citing an example, Reis mentioned that the INECC website doesn’t have any JQuery, which is a Javascript framework, to allow interactive elements to work on a website, but they didn’t put any such buttons or elements.

They also wrote all the code, rather than relying on available templates, and were able to reduce the data usage for loading a page from 250 kilobytes (1 kilobyte=1,024 byte) to 8 kilobytes, he added.

Sequeira mentioned that the website doesn’t have any colour photographs of people representing the group. “All the images used are black and white and are optimised. There is no gallery of pictures or videos that would make the website heavy. Also, the loading of unnecessary files was avoided and only system fonts were used,” she added.

Ashish Deshpande, director at Elephant Design, a design consulting firm, stated that during the lockdown, the influx of content and data has been high. Deshpande mentioned that people fail to realise that mobile phones and other internet-enabled devices consume data 24 hours a day.

A website only needs a few images for the message to resonate with the user, and people need not upload entire albums, he commented.

While people believe that going digital and working from home would help the environment, British author James Bridle, in his book New Dark Age mentioned that the amount of energy used by data centres has doubled every four years, and is expected to triple in the next 10 years. Also, the carbon emissions from Bitcoins are similar to emissions by around one million transatlantic flights, another study stated. A 2015 study stated that 2% of the world’s carbon emissions came from data centres, close to the emissions by the aviation industry.

Read more: Low carbon growth: A mirage or a target well in sight?

The author is a Pune-based freelance journalist and a member of, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.


Banner image by Kartik Chandramouli/Mongabay.

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