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What Can Organizations Do to Reduce Their Data Carbon Impact?

What Can Organizations Do to Reduce Their Data Carbon Impact?

Clean cloud data centers offer a sustainable solution for digital products.

As the world continues to turn its attention towards sustainability, some sectors are more overlooked than others. The UK government has ambitious goals to make all sectors carbon neutral by 2050 – including IT.

On the surface, the prospect of data causing carbon emissions seems baffling: how can a non-physical entity impact the real world? However, when we look at the statistics, the reality is far more complicated.

Breaking Down the Impact of Data Centers

Every image, video or text file needs to be stored somewhere. In a world dominated by social media, the demand for data is only growing. Today, data centers account for some 2% of the world’s entire energy consumption. In a more chilling finding, the demand for data centers is set to double over the next five years.

A big culprit for energy demands is websites. The average website emits 6g of CO2 – the same as driving a petrol car 12,000 miles per year. The reality is that much of this can be reduced simply by investing in website performance. My team investigated this when building their Web Vitals Index tool, which ranks the UK’s top e-commerce brands based on Google’s Core Web Vitals.

Website performance has proven to be synonymous with reduced energy loads. By speeding up a site and optimizing images, webmasters put smaller demands on data centers and thus reduce their carbon footprint. This doesn’t need to be a huge investment either. While some companies may want to start from square one, others can benefit from quick wins and supplier changes.

Website Testing with Synthetic Monitoring

A crucial element of website performance is testing – and this is even more important for e-commerce sites. Synthetic monitoring uses automated tools to mimic a customer journey. It can identify potential barriers to conversion, such as slow loading pages. Likewise, it can also spot security issues and website downtime. Marketers and developers can take this crucial information and use it to make decisions, such as optimizing JavaScript.

Improving Processing Times Through Image Optimization

Images carry a lot of weight for web design, and are prominent in transactional sites. However, images that are too large risk putting unnecessary strains on servers. We may see these identified in tools such as the Web Vitals Index, highlighting issues in areas such as the largest contentful paint.

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A simple image optimization tool can reduce the size of these images without compromising quality. It makes a huge difference at scale – one image at 1MB too large could result in 1 million extra megabytes being unnecessarily downloaded.

Making Little Changes for Big Differences

One of the key concepts for long-term sustainability is collaboration. This could translate as collaboration between developers and marketers, or between organizations and their suppliers. A good starting point is to choose a clean cloud data center, moving away from legacy technology and reducing reliance on physical storage. Likewise, if developers are using third-party JavaScript, they should review the third party to make sure it offers efficiency.

After a supplier review, organizations should look for “quick wins” such as turning off auto-play videos. These are hugely energy-intensive and can compromise accessibility. Similarly, custom fonts may look the part but can take up more energy than standard web-based fonts. For those working with their own JavaScript, tuning it can help – but it’s important to note that third parties cannot be tuned. All of these changes can make an impact on page speed, which can increase conversions by up to 7%.

How Do These Changes Impact the Customer?

While reducing carbon footprints should be top priority for organizations, there are other considerations. Today’s consumer is more socially conscious, with 83% of consumers concerned about the sustainability of their shopping habits. This means that they are more wary of practices such as green-washing – they need certifiable evidence that companies are doing all they can to limit the damage they do.

Embedding good practices such as switching to green suppliers can give customers real assurance. Measurable statistics, such as the carbon impact of a website, will help customers to make informed decisions. Likewise, with faster page loading speeds, customers will have a better experience and be more incentivized to return.

The energy demands of data are quite startling, but the tide is turning thanks to more information and government initiatives. We each have a role to play to make sure we continue in the right direction – and we can start with these practices.


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