Our digital world is consuming energy

You can do something about it, too

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Unnecessary energy consumption is in a small corner. Our digital world also eats up a lot of energy. Running a website or even the smallest search on Google: everything consumes energy. So even online, we indirectly contribute to environmental pollution. It is time to do something about it.

For every digital action, data centers have to be put to work. This costs energy and therefore produces CO2 emissions. According to the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, internet use worldwide is responsible for no less than 2 percent of total CO2 emissions. That can be done differently.

Not enough yet

Many companies are already paying attention to important themes such as environmental pollution and climate change. They do this, for example, by making their production and customer journey greener. A step in the right direction, but many companies have a blind spot in all their good intentions. They forget to make their digital projects more sustainable. Think about sustainable websites and green web hosting, for example. But even if companies are familiar with these concepts, making them digitally sustainable often gets little or no priority.

Making considerations

It is logical that companies find it difficult to save on this energy expense: their websites often have a high energy consumption for a reason: among other things, all kinds of marketing tools such as scripts for analytics and A/B tests have a share in this. Also, website functionality and development costs often win out over sustainability. But at the same time, all those marketing tools make for a slower website. Is that what your client is waiting for?

While not every project, client or context lends itself to making digital projects completely sustainable, it’s always a good idea to look at it. Unnecessary energy consumption is inherent in ‘digital’. In every project, there is something to be gained on resource consumption.

What else we can do

Sustainability and the pursuit of the most energy-efficient solutions possible are thus also a clear task for the web industry. A radical change is needed. It’s not just consultancy and reports that are important, we ourselves also need to roll up our sleeves. But how exactly do we approach making our digital projects more sustainable? The key is often data consumption.

More efficient code and programming languages

For example, take a critical look at the code used in your digital projects. Reliability, security and maintainability of code are often considered, but well-written and compact code is just as important. The better written, the more efficient the code. Besides the amount of data traffic, the number of requests between server and browser also has an impact. Poorly running code can lead to increased energy consumption, which in turn has an impact on CO2 emissions. Research also shows that some programming languages such as PHP and Python are more energy-intensive than others (pdf).

And although the use of libraries and frameworks like React and Angular creates new opportunities, they do execute a lot of code on the user’s device. This means that more energy is consumed on the user’s end. At the same time, on the other side of the project, more testing and maintenance is required to support a variety of browsers and devices. So those libraries and frameworks may not be as nice as they seem at first glance.

Besides the programming language and codes, there are also alternatives for your web hosting. For example, have you ever thought about green web hosting?

A good investment

Reducing the energy consumption of your digital projects not only benefits your energy bill, but also your performance and user experience. If your website is faster, people are more likely to buy something from you. It is not without reason that in the world of front-end development there is already a lot of focus on optimizing performance.

For years we have been applying progressive enhancement as one of the most important principles in developing a front-end environment. This has allowed us to develop websites that survive trends and are easier to maintain. Simply put, this means that we separate functionality and presentation from content. We develop websites and applications first of all in a ‘basic version’. This works in all browsers and even with poor connections. Additional functionalities to enrich the user experience and the interface are added. This way we keep the amount of source code limited.

A website can do a lot if we keep the front- and back-end simple. Many marketing websites can suffice with a static website, driven by a headless content management system. From there, Progressive Web Apps are a logical step forward: this is how we turn every website into more of a web application. Efficient, economical and just as user-friendly.