Reducing CO2 Emissions and the Web

Reducing CO2 Emissions and the Web

Remove excess plugin

Don’t’ worry, we’re not going bananas. Your favorite website design team was in a bit of a hurry last month, but there’s always time to stop and smell the flowers. At the beginning of this month, we read about Danny van Kooten’s effort to reduce CO2 emissions just by doing his job. How’s that possible? All websites have a specific carbon footprint. Meaning, the extensions, programs, solutions used by millions of users utilize a certain amount of energy. If the creators get rid of just a couple of unnecessary kB, they can achieve an enormous impact. And that is just what this programmer did. He reduced global emissions by an estimated 59.000 kg CO2 per month by removing a 20 kB JavaScript dependency in Mailchimp for WordPress. He said that his WordPress plugins combined run on almost over 2 million different websites, with who knows how many visitors.

So, the numbers are staggering – looks like that 1 kWh if each of these websites received exactly 1 visitor. If the average visitor count for websites is around 10.000 per month, the total amount of saved energy from reducing a single kilobyte is then 1 kWh * 10.000 visitors = 10.000 kWh.

We (or some of us) are taking IT for granted because 1 kilobyte of a file that is being loaded on 2 million websites produces 2950 kg CO2 emissions per month! So, making 1000 kg of cement produces around 900 kg of carbon dioxide, and that is a whole different industry from a piece of code.

Is There a Practical Solution?

We are facing a ridiculous growing of websites’ data. In just a decade, data transfer was getting more and more energy usage, and with the growth in mobile use, the numbers got wilder.

Hand holding glass globeMentioned programmer Danny thinks that “web developers we have a responsibility to stop this madness”. He suggested that programmers must think – do I REALLY need this? If not, it is better to leave it out.

So, the best way to build sustainable solutions and take care of the Planet is to avoid all the unnecessary features and keeping your code nice and clean. Danny mentioned JavaScript and CSS framework as examples of things that programmers shouldn’t embrace buy default. Also, with extending the cache lifetimes and using a static site generator, we are doing more for our community that we might think.

It’s Really Adding Up!

What is really fun is that in spite of all the expectations, we do not have to bloat the web. Meaning, we have been bombarded with third-party analytics, extensions, and plugins that pretty fast became the industry “standard”. But do we really need this?

With just a few small improvements like choosing the more efficient web host or getting rid of unnecessary code, we are doing much more on a global scale. And these are the choices we make daily, and almost by default. We make a number of websites yearly, along with thousands of our colleagues around the world. The impact of all our work combined together is mind-blowing, having in mind the energy and CO2 footprint it produces. What we wanted is to share a great initiative and to pinpoint the importance of the choices we as developers make. This is one of our main goals as a web development agency. To develop a healthy and sustainable practice, that could make a difference.