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Switching to clean cloud could reduce carbon footprint

Written by Gav Winter, CEO of RapidSpike

With increasing pressure from the government to move to carbon neutral by 2050, every sector has its role to play. A sobering study as reported by The Independent highlighted the impact that data centres have on the planet.

Specifically, data centres are forecasted to consume three times as much energy in the next five years. To put it into figures, in 2015, 416.2 terawatt hours of electricity were consumed in data centres – considerably higher than the UK’s total electricity consumption.

As demand for data increases, so too does its need for power. Today, data centres account for around 2% of the entire planet’s energy consumption. Image and video files have proliferated via mobile phones and social media, putting a huge strain on the planet. As enterprises become more aware of this and look towards their environmental, social and governance strategy, they seek opportunities for change.

The data centre sector has acknowledged the problem. For example, DEFRA has introduced its ICT sustainability strategy. Within it, circular economy initiatives are encouraged – whereby more companies collaborate and freely share data within the supply chain.

In tandem with this, website owners have a role to play. Switching to a “clean cloud” can save tonnes of CO2 emissions, but there are also changes they can make onsite.

As a rule, the more complicated a site, the heavier its data consumption will be. An average website emits around 6g of CO2 – the equivalent of driving a car 12,000 miles.

Google shone a spotlight on this in 2021 when it introduced its Core Web Vitals, a new ranking factor that examines the performance of a site. It assesses risks for slow page loading speeds, for example, large and unoptimised images. The UK’s best-known online retailers are frequently tested on the Web Vitals Index to see how they measure up.

UK business owners, both in retail and the digital world at large, can collaborate with green data centres to reduce their carbon footprint. It starts by looking at one of the biggest contributors to power usage: images.

Page sizes and processing times can be reduced by addressing images onsite. Google labels these as “first contentful paint” or “largest contentful paint” – for example, a hero banner on a landing page. By measuring which images are consuming the most energy, organisations can optimise them at scale – using tools to reduce the file size without impacting quality.

A “green speed” agenda can also help – looking at which pages are encumbered by slow loading images. Even a 1-second page delay can result in a 7% reduction in conversions, which is critical for sites such as online retailers.

For even quicker marginal gains, organisations are advised to view their devices as millions of “small power guzzlers”. Just as car manufacturers continually try to make petrol go further, so too should websites and applications. This can start with something simple, such as turning off auto-playing videos.

Likewise, custom fonts take up more space than standard web fonts, so these should be replaced where possible. More technical changes include looking at JavaScript – either reducing it or optimising it for better performance. It’s important to note that tuning is not possible with third-party JavaScript, so webmasters should choose their suppliers wisely.

Again, this reinforces the point of switching to clean cloud data centres, who may have their own carbon offsetting measures.

For further gains, synthetic monitoring takes the role of a mystery shopper and automates it. This is particularly valuable for ecommerce sites, where the customer journey is mimicked artificially. It has the potential to spot website downtime and security risks. Not only could this present opportunities to speed up a site, but prevent reputational damage and revenue loss.

Above all, webmasters should remember that green does not always mean go in web design. Many of these changes prioritise speed, but it’s important to consider the other environmental impacts of certain practices. Switching to greener suppliers should be first on the agenda, encouraging a culture of collaboration where sustainability comes first.

In tandem with circular economy principles and better transparency, organisations can reduce their carbon footprint. It begins with simple switches that could bring ground-breaking results.