On Earth Day Labelium’s New Digital Sustainability Agency Aims To Highlight the Critical Challenge of Digital Pollution and Promote The Decarbonization Of The Digital Industry Through Responsible And Sustainable Digital Efforts
MONTREAL — Footsprint, a new division of the independent global digital performance group Labelium, has released the results of the first Canadian carbon footprint study of corporate websites. To raise awareness on the very tangible impact of website pollution, particularly for high traffic industry leaders, footsprint has ranked the sites of the top 60 companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) according to the CO2 emissions generated by their websites. To access the full study and the rankings, and learn about the methodology used by footsprint, please visit: https://www.footsprint.co/fcr60/
Still unaccounted for in today’s ESG indexes, digital pollution is already higher than the entire civil aviation industry, and soon to become a critical challenge. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is clear: we need to reduce carbon emissions quickly and decisively, across all sectors – including digital. While digitalization has been recognized for its potential to enable emissions reduction, its environmental impacts has been wrongly overlooked so far: annual CO2 emissions are already as heavy as the entire civil aviation, or more than a country like Canada (3.5%).
While the average click on a webpage is less than 1 gr of CO2, the real problem is at macro level. If we account for the aggregate traffic a website receives, footsprint’s study shows that the cumulative impact adds up to 300 thousand tons of CO2e per year in Canada alone, or the equivalent of 70,000 homes’ energy use for a year. And it increases each day: with already over a billion websites in the world, we count about 250,000 new sites coming online every day.
The yearly CO2 emissions generated by the digital sector in Canada.
The yearly CO2 consumption of website traffic in Canada: the equivalent of 70,000 homes’ energy use for one year.
The study uncovers large ecological performance discrepancies among the TSX60 companies, and the need for governance and standards when it comes to digital sustainability practices.
Each website in the study was attributed a score from 1 to 100 (100 being the score for the most sustainable websites). The score reflects a website’s ecological performance taking into account server, network, and end user device while also trying to capture the full website life cycle emissions. So that comparison is fair amongst the different sites, the scoring does not reflect for website traffic, which is instead reflected in the “Total website lifetime emissions” Column. In this study, scores for the TSX60 websites ranged from 12 (lowest score) to 81.
Among the TSX60, the podium for the most sustainable websites is surprisingly not held by the leading IT companies but instead is owned by the energy & financial sectors. In first place, Canadian Natural Resources is the indisputable winner, with less than 0.07 gCO2e emitted per page visited. On the other end of the ranking, with a total score of 12, Kinross emits more than 2 gCO2e per page. In the IT sector, Shopify obtains the 5th rank, just ahead of CGI (#6) and Open Text (#7). Power Corp dominates the financial sector in second place, ahead of SunLife (#9) and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (#10).
Things get even more interesting when we account for site volume and lifetime emissions. Here we can see TD and Rogers stand out with the heaviest impact in terms of total pollution, with respectively 384 and 345 T of CO2e generated over the website lifecycle, despite not having the lowest scores. This highlights that the higher the traffic volume, the larger the carbon impact and the more responsibility companies have to implement sustainability best practices. For example, in the case of TD, reducing unitary page emissions by 30% (only 0.1 gCO2e/visit) would generate lifetime savings of 112 TCO2e, the equivalent of 27 homes’ energy consumption for a year.
From web hosting to data transfer: key factors that impact website carbon emissions.
Sustainable web hosting turns out to be a very complex topic, and there is a lot more to consider than simply picking a “green” hosting company. Two of the most important criteria when choosing a web host are server efficiency (the ratio between the total energy used by a data center facility and the energy delivered to computer equipment) and server location. With about 40% on average of the energy consumed by a data center spent on cooling and ventilation*3, choosing a data center located in a colder region (e.g. Northern Quebec) can drastically increase server efficiency. Additionally, the carbon intensity of electricity greatly varies across countries and regions, also impacting a website’s carbon emissions.
Data transfer is another critical factor when looking at website emissions.
Generally speaking, the more data transferred, the greater the energy consumption to realize the transfer. In a world with ever increasing internet speeds and powerful computing systems, we have been building increasingly power hungry and energy consuming sites. Today, research shows that the average page web is nearly 4.5 times the size of a web page in 2010. A large portion of the work when striving to reduce website carbon emissions is therefore the reduction of page weight. In contrast to traditional website performance optimization, sustainable web design therefore looks at efficiency over speed. The two are however strongly correlated, as more efficient websites will necessarily perform better.
Not unlike other sectors, the short-term priority will be to reduce carbon leaks across existing websites, through the implementation of sustainable web design best practices. Yet to create lasting change, sustainability needs to be integrated into the software development lifecycle of our future websites.
Fixing our websites for sustainability is not just good for the planet, but for business as well.
Sustainable web design is proven to improve business performances. Indeed, building lighter, more efficient websites helps with page speed and reduces friction, which ultimately results in higher conversion rates. From an accessibility standpoint, lighter websites means increased reach for audiences in less well served areas (poor connectivity, slow devices, etc). Also, hosting costs can be reduced by implementing sustainability best practices through minimized server loads.
Together with a team of seasoned tech and environmental experts, footsprint empowers companies in making sure their websites place people and the planet first through efficiency and sustainability by design. To start auditing your website and implementing recommendations across 150+ control points, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Managing Director for footsprint
+1 514-430-5936 | +1 438-387-7771