There’s no doubt about it: the Internet is growing faster and faster – doubling in size every two years – and showing no sign of slowing down. The bad news is that its environmental footprint is following the same upward trend.
Studies show that the Internet swallows 10 % of the world’s energy production and that associated greenhouse gas emissions have soared to 4 % of the global total. That’s no less than the entire aviation sector. Moreover, it goes without saying that the 1.4 billion smartphones and 15 million servers manufactured in 2018 made significant use of non-renewable resources.
How did we get here? The rise of social media? Online streaming platforms? The digital transformation? The Internet of Things? Yes, but that’s not all. The abundance of resources at almost no cost and the ubiquity of the Internet have combined to give us the sense that the online world is immaterial, intangible. Case in point – why would anyone watching a cute video of frolicking kittens and puppies worry about its environmental impact?
The trap doesn’t just lure users. Almost unlimited server power, bandwidth and ever more powerful smartphones have led to the development of more and more demanding software. As Udi Manber and Peter Norvig famously wrote on the Google Search blog in 2012: “It takes about the same amount of computing to answer one Google Search query as all the computing done — in flight and on the ground — for the entire Apollo program.”
How can we change this? The answer is simple: since the footprint of a digital service comes from the hardware layer, let’s develop digital services that are less demanding of that layer. The results could be quite impressive.
An ESN pilot project showed that the overall footprint of DG Environment’s website was cut in half after the implementation of eco-design best practices. The changes concerned functional elements, improvements to coding and a massive reduction of bandwidth usage by more than 90 %.
This was the starting point for introducing eco-design at ESN. In 2016, we obtained certification from Green IT France and the Université de La Rochelle, furthering boosting our credentials to implement the eco-design of websites as a standard service.