When we started building our solution we were conscious that in doing so we didn’t want to be part of the problem.
We wanted to help other businesses tackle the incremental carbon dioxide emissions caused by websites without creating unnecessary carbon overheads ourselves.
In this article we’ll talk about some of the decisions we’ve made so far.
Data capture, retention
The act of transmitting and storing data has a carbon footprint. Although it’s relatively minor on a per-byte basis, data volumes can rack up fast, very easily.
As highlighted in a report authored by our founder, Stanford Magazine suggests that 100GB of stored data could be responsible for up to 200kgs of CO2e per year. 100GB might seem like a lot of data, but in a world where everything is synced with multiple devices via the cloud, and backed up automatically, you can be generating 100GB very quick without realising it.
As such, our decision was to only capture the data we really needed, and only store it for as long as we need it.
In practical terms, this look like this:
- When we capture information about a specific web page, we remove as much of the erroneous data as we can before sending it to our systems. This has an added privacy benefit too.
- When we store the data, we process the raw information as soon as we can, discarding the raw data and keeping only the aggregate.
- We keep data for a maximum of 12 months, then it is destroyed.
- When backing up our systems, we omit debug and test data, and keep only as much data as we need for as long as it is really needed.
Our office runs from it’s own homebuilt micro-grid.
This is an ongoing project of our founder, and currently offers the ability to run off solar energy and a battery. When the battery can’t be charged fully from the sun, it is charged only when the grid energy is at it’s cleanest (see below).
Future developments of this capability will introduce a small-scale wind turbine and enhanced battery storage.
Our server-side architecture is split across two hosts both of which are running on green energy.
You can see if your host is running on green energy here.
Even though our primary systems are running on green energy networks, our systems depend on interconnects, API calls and third party services.
We currently have no easy way to determine or control what energy is used by these elements of our service, but what we can do is make sure we use them only when the energy network is at its greenest.
When we first started designing Digital Carbon Online we knew we wanted to be able to defer complex calculations to times when the energy networks were cleaner, so we designed our systems to be asynchronous — allowing us to delay and defer processing.
As discussed in this LinkedIn post, it took a while to actually implement this, but today we only run our data processing routines when the UK’s energy carbon intensity is either “low” or “very low”.
Log file screenshot showing the first time we used the UK’s energy carbon intensity in deciding when to run our processing.
To achieve this we utilise the National Grid’s carbon intensity API. (This is the same technique we use to manage charging our office micro-grid).
Analytics and tracking
If there’s one thing we despise about the internet is the amount of data that is harvested and collected behind the scenes.
With that and the associated carbon impact we decided to not use systems like Google Analytics on this website.
In the spirit of disclosure, this decision isn’t yet causing us any significant issues, but we are aware that as we look to scale and grow the business will cause us more challenges. That will be a topic for a future post — how to grow a digital business without using the typical digital marketing strategies in use by nearly everyone today… (feel free to share your tips and ideas with us!)
We’ve built Digital Carbon Online with low carbon impact in mind from day one. Along the way, we’ve had to solve some sticky challenges, made some (hopefully) smart decisions and are aware there is still so much more to do.
Starting from scratch isn’t a luxury most businesses have, though.
However, when it comes to tackling your digital carbon footprints, there are several small steps you can take to get started — with your website carbon footprints being one of them.
So why not start that today, with a free carbon emission report on your website — visit the website to get yours.