There is nothing quite like a free lunch.
Until recently, conversations about sustainability focused on the physical. Packaging, materials, recycling, freight.
But the worlds of consumer, tech and marketing are realizing the importance of digital sustainability. We can’t see or touch them, but our digital presence, activities and transactions come at an environmental cost. And with the acceleration of the digital switchover, that cost is rising rapidly. Internet traffic is currently estimated to represent 3.7% of emissions, but is expected to double by 2025, attracting increasing concern and attention.
This goal now affects the cutting edge of technology. Elon Musk, an advocate for Bitcoin as recently as March, announced in May that Tesla would no longer accept payment in cryptocurrency, citing concerns about climate change (Bitcoin prices fell 10%. ) But it’s not just the extremely power-hungry crypto mining process. it’s in the spotlight. Google has been carbon neutral since 2007, has offset its entire carbon footprint since its inception, and has committed to becoming fully carbon-free by 2030. Amazon has committed to being carbon negative by 2040. Microsoft set a goal 10 years earlier. Change is happening, embraced by brands big and small.
Powering a digital world
Each site we review requires processing power to download. Images require additional processing, not to mention videos, which are touted as the star asset of content marketing, but consuming energy. The servers that provide us with this content use large amounts of electricity to power and ventilate. Unless all of this energy comes from renewables, the price to pay for our climate is high. But brands and their digital suppliers have – excuse the pun – the power to solve this problem. And no, they don’t need to sink.
Computers in a cupboard
Many small and medium-sized businesses can do without their own IT infrastructure; private servers in private locations create unnecessary pollution – not to mention security issues and maintenance issues. Shared public infrastructure is more efficient, safer and more secure. It can also reduce overhead costs.
Sustainable by design
Advertising and digital and social websites have long been considered « fingerprint-free », but this is a mistake. Do we really need an HD video showreel on every homepage? Some products order such a demo, or at least a detailed high resolution image. Others, however, would have the same impact with less energy-consuming items. In fact, designers and brand owners would often have less of a headache when they don’t need an impressive image (what is the tangible benefit of a large, high-res image for a consulting service? tax?). Sustainable web design is a growing field, with digital agencies learning how to present their clients while reducing the processing power required. The bonus? The site’s performance is also improving.
At the end of the life cycle, it also means keeping your home in order; old code that is no longer needed? Cut. Site plugins there ‘just in case’ or from a previous version? Clean them up. Seen by visitors, the difference is minimal. But with mainstream branded websites registering tens and hundreds of thousands of visits each year, the overall effect is significant.
While we can minimize our digital carbon footprint, we cannot realistically eliminate it completely, and this is a statement of fact that the remaining emissions come at a cost. Offsetting aims to cover this cost by improving emissions elsewhere in the global economy, whether through carbon uptake such as tree planting and coral regeneration, or through reduction such as improved cooking. and heating. While some criticize this path as a “permit to pollute”, it may deserve to be taken into account in the digital sustainability policy mix for inevitable emissions.
For most brands, a large part of their digital footprint depends on third parties; creative and digital agencies and hosts. It is therefore essential that supplier purchases take into account policies and expertise in digital sustainability. Graphic design that takes into account the carbon impact, the use of shared public servers, the agencies’ own energy supply policies – these may seem more subtle than recyclable, plastic-free packaging, but in a world of millions of people. ad impressions, social shares and website views, they make a vital impact.
Overall brand sustainability has never been a more important buying consideration, or a more important topic in marketing – and rightly so. Brands that focus solely on their physical impact risk falling behind in terms of corporate responsibility and consumer appeal. In a digitally driven world, are you maximizing digital sustainability?
Sarah Craig, Vice President Europe, Spark.