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Web Sustainability: Impact of the WWW on greenhouse gas emissions

Date: 11/12/2023

Stuart Watkins

Web sustainability has emerged as a crucial facet of our digital world, especially given the startling revelation that the internet, including web and social media traffic, contributes approximately 3.7% to global greenhouse gas emissions, a figure on par with the airline industry. This significant environmental impact, mainly attributed to the energy needed for data centres, networks, and our devices, necessitates a concerted effort towards sustainability in digital.​

Current Impact: As of April 2023, the internet, including web and social media traffic, accounted for about 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This percentage is comparable to the airline industry. This significant impact is mainly due to the energy required to run data centres, networks, and the devices we use to access the web.

Web Sustainability

Predicted Growth: The carbon footprint of digital operations is expected to grow, mainly due to the increasing demand for data and more sophisticated, energy-intensive processes like streaming high-definition videos and the use of emerging technologies like blockchain. Some estimates suggest that the internet could account for up to 14% of the world’s carbon emissions if current trends continue by 2040.

Factors Contributing to Growth: This growth is driven by several factors, including increased internet users worldwide, more data-intensive applications, and the rise of technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT), which require significant computational power.

It’s important to remember that these figures and predictions can vary depending on the methodologies used and the assumptions made in the calculations. However, they highlight a significant and growing concern about web sustainability with our increasing reliance on digital technologies. 

Reducing this impact involves improving energy efficiency in data centres, using renewable energy sources, and developing more energy-efficient devices and networks.

How can you help?

By carefully selecting your hosting partners offering greener solutions and reducing the impact your web pages have. Check out our carbon calculator:

CO2 Calculator

10 Steps to Web Sustainability

  1. Optimise Images and Videos: Large images and videos can significantly increase the energy required to load a website. Optimise them by reducing file sizes without sacrificing quality. Use formats like WebP for images and compress videos effectively.
  2. Efficient Coding: Write clean, efficient code. Minimize the use of JavaScript and CSS, and avoid unnecessary plugins and widgets. The more streamlined your code, the less processing power is required to load and run your website.
  3. Use a Green Web Host: Choose a web hosting provider that uses renewable energy sources or is committed to carbon neutrality. This can significantly reduce your website’s carbon footprint.
  4. Enable Caching: Caching saves parts of your site on the user’s device after the first visit, reducing the amount of data transferred for subsequent visits and lowering energy use.
  5. Mobile Optimization: Since mobile devices often use less energy than desktops, ensuring your site is mobile-friendly can indirectly reduce its carbon footprint.
  6. Implement Dark Mode: Offering a dark mode can reduce energy usage, particularly on devices with OLED or AMOLED screens.
  7. Reduce HTTP Requests: Each element on a page (like images, scripts, and CSS files) requires an HTTP request to load. Reduce these requests by simplifying design elements and combining files where possible.
  8. Eco-Friendly Fonts: Some fonts require less energy to render. Simple, clean fonts typically consume less power than decorative or complex ones.
  9. Monitor and Optimize Performance: Use tools like Google PageSpeed Insights to monitor your website’s performance and make necessary optimisations.
  10. Sustainability Messaging: Incorporate sustainability into your website’s content and design, encouraging visitors to consider the environmental impact of their digital habits.

What is the carbon impact of your webpage?

How Much Carbon Does an Average Website Produce?

The Answer is 2,112 kg of CO2/year. To put that into perspective, let’s compare it with some other emissions:

  • Flying: The carbon emissions from flying vary depending on the distance and type of plane. A commercial flight emits about 90 grams of CO2 per passenger per kilometre. For example, a round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles (about 3,940 km one way) produces roughly 708 kg of CO2 per passenger. So, 2,112 kg of CO2 is equivalent to about three round-trip flights on this route per year.
  • Driving: The emissions from driving depend on the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. A typical passenger vehicle emits about 404 grams of CO2 per mile. Assuming an average car, 2,112 kg of CO2 is equivalent to driving approximately 5,225 miles (or about 8,410 kilometres) in a year. This is roughly the distance of driving from London to Edinburgh and back 14 times!
  • Electricity Usage: The carbon intensity of electricity in the UK is lower than in many countries due to a higher share of renewables and nuclear energy in the energy mix. Our latest figures show the UK’s grid carbon intensity was around 0.233 kg of CO2 per kWh. Therefore, 2,112 kg of CO2 equates to about 9,060 kWh. 

The average UK household uses around 3,800 kWh of electricity per year. So, 2,112 kg of CO2 is roughly the same as the annual electricity consumption of about 2.4 average UK households.

Offsetting with Trees: Trees absorb CO2 as they grow, but the absorption rate varies by species, climate, and tree age. A young, healthy tree can absorb about 22 kg of CO2 annually. To offset 2,112 kg of CO2, you would need about 96 trees growing for one year. However, it’s important to note that this is a long-term commitment, as trees take time to reach their full carbon-absorbing potential.

These comparisons provide a tangible sense of the amount of emissions 2,112 kg of CO2 represents in everyday activities like flying and driving. Reducing such emissions is crucial in our efforts to combat climate change and reach web sustainability.

See how you can reduce your impact

How Green is Social Media?

Regarding the carbon footprint of social media platforms, a key factor to consider is the energy consumption due to data transfer, storage, and user devices accessing these platforms. A recent analysis by Compare the Market on some of the most popular social media platforms found significant variations in emissions per minute of use. For instance, TikTok generates the most emissions per minute at 2.63 grams of CO2, followed by Reddit (2.45 grams) and Pinterest (1.3 grams)​​.

Some social media platforms have made strides in adopting renewable energy and striving towards a greener digital world. Here’s a summary of social media sites and their efforts towards renewable energy:

  • Facebook: It announced using 100% renewable energy for its operations and aims for net-zero emissions by 2030 across its operations, value chain, suppliers, business travel, and employee commuting​​.
  • WeChat: Owned by Tencent, it uses hydro and wind power, along with waste-to-energy recovery, for its data centres. Tencent has been recognised for its efforts in clean energy​​.
  • Snapchat: It has developed solutions to minimise the app’s battery drain, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of user devices. Snapchat also supports forestry and renewable energy projects, making the company carbon-neutral​​.
  • Netflix: Although carbon emissions vary depending on devices, Netflix aims to be net-zero by 2022 and invests in natural ecosystem regeneration​​.
  • TikTok: Despite having a higher carbon footprint than YouTube, it hosts content that educates users on environmental topics​​.
  • Reddit: Former CEO Yishan Wong is now working on environmental restoration, indicating an awareness of environmental responsibilities​​.
  • Instagram: It allows climate-conscious activism among users but lacks green credentials compared to its social media rivals​​.
  • YouTube: It focuses on educating users to live more sustainably and has key partnerships for content with a sustainability focus​​.
  • LinkedIn: It is moving towards zero-waste and uses 80% wind and solar power for its office footprint​​.
  • Twitter/X:  is committed to reducing its carbon footprint and fostering sustainability projects​​.

These rankings reflect various factors, including green energy adoption, initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint, and improving the user experience. Collectively, they highlight a growing awareness in the digital world about the importance of sustainability.


The journey towards web sustainability is not just a technological challenge but a collective responsibility. It requires us to rethink our digital habits and the infrastructure behind them. From optimizing website elements to choosing greener hosting services, every step counts.

We can make significant strides towards a sustainable digital future by reducing our carbon footprints, including those of social media.

Website Sustainability FAQs

What does web sustainability mean?

Web sustainability refers to the practice of designing and managing digital services so they minimizes their environmental impact. It encompasses strategies to reduce the energy consumption and carbon footprint of websites and digital operations.

Is my website environmentally friendly?

To determine if your website is environmentally friendly, consider factors like:

  • Energy efficiency in hosting
  • Optimized coding
  • Eco-friendly design elements.

If these aspects are aligned with sustainability practices, your website can be considered environmentally friendly.

Use out Website Carbon Calculator to find out more

What are the web sustainability standards?

Web sustainability standards include optimizing images and videos, writing efficient code, using green web hosting, enabling caching, and mobile optimization.

How can I make my website sustainable?

To make your website sustainable:

  • Optimize image and video sizes
  • Use efficient coding practices
  • Coose a green web host
  • Enable caching
  • Optimize your UX for mobile devices
  • Offer a dark mode
  • Reduce HTTP requests
  • Use eco-friendly fonts
  • Regularly monitor and optimize performance
  • Integrate sustainability messaging into your website’s content and design.

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