Calculating a website's carbon footprint

By: Owen Phillips

The other day I received an email from a Velocity member. They were served an ad about…checking your website to see how “clean” it ran. In order to calculate your carbon footprint states that it uses the following data to calculate a website’s footprint:

  1. Data transfer over the wire
  2. Energy intensity of web data
  3. Energy source used by the data centre
  4. Carbon intensity of electricity
  5. Website traffic

So obviously we had to try it out. According to the calculator, is dirtier than 74%  of web pages tested. - dirtier than 73%

The Nature Conservancy - dirtier than 78% - dirtier than 72%

Sadly, ChatGPT failed to load.

So what’s the rub here? Basically, because people interact with the internet in an ethereal (versus physical) way, most don’t realize that there is a footprint to web use. “Clouds” are data storage warehouses. When you log on to a website, you are accessing it via a physical machine somewhere in the world, sitting in a giant room of computers, that takes energy to turn on, maintain working temperatures, etc. But because you are not engaging directly with the physical thing, the connection between emissions and web usage is lost.

This disconnect is excellently illustrated in the April 7, 2022 episode of the Outside/In podcast: How to Build a Solar-Powered Website. From talking about the internet being a series of tubes, to discussing what it means for the web to go completely “clean” (and the implications this might have on our society)—it’s worth the listen.

Also, Low-Tech Magazine’s website, which is the featured aspect of the podcast, cleaner than 69% of sites according to the Website Carbon Calculator.


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