Greening the web needs to be a top priority for all web agencies

Written by Tom Greenwood - September 17, 2018

I just read an article by Richard Roberts of fellow B Corp Volans (one of the world’s most respected sustainability consultancies), in which he pointed out that climate change count down clock has already passed zero day.

The count down clock is a project run by the Mercator Research Institute in Berlin and predicts how much time we have until the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeds the maximum level to keep global temperature rises within a safe limit.

The temperature limit agreed as “safe” by most climate scientists is 1.5 degrees and, based on a medium level of risk, the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere exceeded that level some time on Saturday 8th September. To be blunt, it means that the Paris Climate Agreement has already failed and we are living on borrowed time.  Despite its significance, you won’t hear much about this from most politicians or the media. They will not lead us to a sustainable future.


World leaders hold hands to celebrate the Paris climate agreement
A somewhat premature celebration by world leaders at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015

Have we really run out of time?

The count down clock now runs to the 2 degree limit, which although far more risky could maybe, just maybe, be enough to avert runaway climate change, albeit with a great many around the world suffering the severe consequences. On the medium risk estimate for 2 degrees, we have 17 years until we hit that limit and on the safe estimate, just 8 years. At that point we won’t be able to put any more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at all. That’s it, no more burning fossil fuels, venting methane or burping cows. We must be 100% zero carbon equivalent from that point forward for the foreseeable future.

In fact, to really protect our future we must go beyond zero carbon and rapidly pull greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere.

So why am I sharing this?

Firstly, I am sharing this because there is still hope, but only if we act fast to all help transition to a true zero carbon economy and beyond in the next decade. It isn’t impossible, but will be a momentous challenge. It will be one of the most rapid technological and cultural shifts in human history. My hope is that we at Wholegrain and our peers across the globe can embrace this change and be excited about the possibility of being a part of such a radical and positive change within our own lifetimes.

A number of studies including Zero Carbon Britain have shown that the technology already exists for humans to go zero carbon right now. The only thing stopping us is the collective will to change the way we do things and to put in the hard work required to accelerate that change fast enough.

If we all set our minds to it and embed the mission of zero carbon into our global culture, I believe that great things will be possible.

What has this got to do with web design?

As we talk about regularly in posts such as ‘3 steps to creating zero carbon websites‘, the internet is not the clean, immaterial system that most of us imagine it to be. In fact it uses an unimaginably large amount of electricity, which is responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions and is one of the fastest growing sources of emissions thanks to our hunger for data.

Trying to resist the global hunger for data might be a futile task, but there is nevertheless a lot that professionals within the web industry can do to reduce emissions, primarily by driving improvements in efficiency and helping to shift the energy that powers our industry to renewable sources. In addition, we must look at every aspect of our businesses to eliminate sources of greenhouse gas emissions, whether it be our daily commute, heating our offices, travelling to see clients or even our choice of lunch.


Solar panels in the desert in Región de Antofagasta, Chile
Solar panels in the desert in Región de Antofagasta, Chile can harness clean energy from the sun with minimal impact on biodiversity


I am proud that our team at Wholegrain Digital are already leading the way within our field, even if we do represent only a tiny drop in the ocean of data worldwide. By talking about the issues more and continuing to develop and improve tools such as our website carbon calculator, we can multiply our positive impact and help to influence our industry to embrace sustainability.

This recent news that we are fast running out of time shows that our hard work to green the web is truly important. Our work so far is just the beginning and we must continue to push forward, innovating to drive technical progress in our field and sharing our knowledge as far and wide as possible to bring the rest of our industry with us.

I am currently putting together a new roadmap for our team that will set out a path of how we as a team can drive this progress forward. We will also publish a sustainable web manifesto to set out a series of core principles that should be followed by all web professionals, to drive us towards a sustainable future.