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Green internet: what does it mean, and why do we need it?

by Emilien
May 15, 2023
5 minutes
The sustainable web is a more eco-friendly way of looking at the digital world, and the trend is growing! Here's a look at the challenges and benefits of going green.

Now that we're all trying to be careful with our own ecological habits, and companies are being urged to reduce their environmental footprint as much as possible, a greener internet is asking for our attention. This eco-friendlier approach to the digital world is gaining in popularity, and with good reason! Let's take a look at the challenges and benefits of making the web a greener place.

The sustainable web, more than just a new trend

This green internet phenomenon represents a sustainable approach and ecological strategy for the web, aimed at reducing overconsumption and digital pollution by implementing solutions and optimizations that are responsible and sustainable from an environmental point of view. Wikipedia describes it as "a set of techniques aimed at reducing the social, economic and environmental footprint of digital technology".

While the notion of sustainability and ecology in the digital world has always been of interest to researchers and computer scientists, it has only recently caught on by mainstream audiences. In France, the subject has been a focus of attention for some years now: in 2018, the Institut du Numérique Responsable was created, and in 2021, a law aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of digital technology was passed.

Does online use truly endanger the environment?

We'd be wrong to think that the digital world is completely dematerialized and therefore doesn't pollute. To get a clear view of this, let's think of how the digital world accounted for 4% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 - more than air traffic emissions! This pollution includes all devices connected to the Internet, data centers, as well as both wireless and wired networks used to transfer data.

Not-so-green electronics

According to a GreenIT study published in 2019, around 34 billion electronic devices have been manufactured and supplied with energy to ensure their use in our society. Understandably, the most widespread of these are smartphones, but the fastest-growing are the connected objects that are increasingly becoming part of our daily lives.

The production of these electronic devices is the most polluting as not only does it consume far more energy than the simple use of the device, but it is also depleting available natural resources, which are struggling to regenerate themselves at the pace demanded by our society. Scientists are constantly raising the alarm about these resources.

Unsuspected e-mail pollution

picture of unread notifications on a smartphone
Unread mail piling up leads to excessive energy consumption.

By banishing paper in favor of relentless e-mail exchanges, we often think we're doing the environment a favor. But one sent e-mail is equivalent to a 25W light bulb burning for an hour, or even 4g of CO2. Multiply this by the number of e-mails sent by all users worldwide, excluding attachments, and we come to the alarming conclusion that, because of their sheer volume, e-mails are definitely to blame.

If at least all these e-mails were important, we might think they were a necessary evil. Yet around 75% of all e-mails received are indeed spam and remain unopened... Just think of all those newsletters you receive daily in your inbox, and imagine how much that could represent on a global scale.

Excessive data center consumption

All this increasing digital activity means that a lot of data has to be stored somewhere. The digital world, much like the universe, seems to be expanding into itself, requiring more and more data to be stored thanks to the many web services, applications, mobile networks such as 5G, or the increasingly popular connected objects in our society.

These data centers are powered day and night, and are particularly energy-hungry. To avoid overheating and keep them running as long as possible, air-conditioning systems are needed, and they consume a lot of water and electricity. Furthermore, most data centers contain servers which, like other electronic devices, are made up of rare metals which are non-renewable resources.

Fortunately, more and more companies are taking a more sustainable approach as can prove the emergence of green data centers. These data centers host valuable data while relying on renewable energies and alternatives to air-conditioning to operate in good conditions.

Eco-friendly online best practices

Whether in our personal lives or at work, we can all make some changes to move towards a sustainable and responsible internet. And there's no need to completely change your lifestyle: simple steps can sometimes be all you need to reduce your digital consumption.

Keeping your mailbox clean

Managing your inbox is one of the easiest yet most effective things you can do to limit digital pollution. For example, you can:

  • Regularly empty your mailbox and delete all unnecessary or outdated messages;
  • Delete old mailboxes that are no longer of use to you, and which probably store hundreds or even thousands of e-mails;
  • Unsubscribe from all newsletters that don't really interest you;
  • Avoid unnecessary attachments, and reduce the weight of those that are really useful;

To help you sort your mails and clean up your inbox, many apps offer to do it for you.

gmail application on a tablet
Regularly cleaning out your mailbox is a good habit to adopt.

Making changes to your digital habits at home

With the adoption of a few best practices, it's possible to reduce the impact of your personal digital use:

  • Regularly clean up your browser tabs: even if they're not being used, they continue to use energy;
  • Avoid using search engines wherever possible, and access your usual sites directly. Alternatively, consider using ethical and responsible search engines instead of Google!
  • Completely switch off or unplug any devices you don't use regularly, which will also lower your electricity bill;
  • Pay attention to video streaming and cloud storage, both of which consume a lot of energy!

Applying the same guidelines at work

Businesses are no exception: in fact, they too need to reduce the impact of their major use of digital technology. In addition to adopting the best practices mentioned above, we can add the following:

  • Prioritize exchanges by telephone, SMS or instant messaging instead of e-mail;
  • Uninstall unused desktop applications and clean up your computer or other devices. Not only will this improve performance and ergonomics, it will also reduce power consumption;
  • Buy reconditioned equipment rather than new, to avoid the massive energy consumption associated with manufacturing;
  • Optimize or create the company's website based on sustainable, eco-friendly principles.

How about a green website?

Here at our agency, we try to consider energy consumption in all the projects you entrust to us, from the design stage right through to online deployment. Indeed, with the increasing digitalization of companies, a plethora of new websites and web applications are being created on a regular basis.

There are a number of guidelines and best practices for designing an eco-friendly site or optimizing an existing one. Here's a quick overview of what you can do to create a greener site.

workplace of a web designer
Designing a greener website starts with the graphic layout.

Designing a lightweight, ergonomic website

It's during the design phase that the first steps of a green strategy are taken. The best results are seen by anticipating the approach and applying it right from the beginning. For instance, you might consider:

  • Clearly defining the site's functional requirements, and designing a simple, efficient user interface in which each function is truly useful;
  • Planning a layout with an uncluttered style and as few energy-hungry animations or fonts as possible;
  • Designing the site to offer a user experience that is intuitive and accessible on all media, especially smartphones;
  • Choosing the technologies and CMS best suited to the project, so that they consume as little energy as possible.

Developing the site while minimizing resources

The bulk of the work falls to the site's developers as there are still many things to consider to limit the site's weight and resource consumption:

  • Limiting the use of resources, plugins or external technologies that are not absolutely necessary, and compressing and minifying those that are used;
  • Delivering clean, clear, simple, error-free and optimized code, for example by limiting DB connections or optimizing SQL queries;
  • Paying close attention to the site's media: images and videos are compressed to make them lighter, or even converted to more optimized formats.

Reaching for the stars together