Web sobriety: what solutions at our scale?
An update with Dr Nicolas Tétreault, Executive Director of CLIMACTPosted on May 10, 2023
Dr Nicolas Tetreault
Executive director CLIMACT
Responsable R&D et consultante numérique responsable Resilio
CLIMACT is first and foremost a research center bringing together more than a hundred researchers from UNIL and EPFL from all fields and all levels, but not only. We are also an administrative entity animated by 4 collaborators personally and professionally committed to the fight against climate change. As a result, we try to evolve our processes on a daily basis and adopt good practices to reduce the environmental impact of our activities.
For example, we have chosen to offer 1kg of CO₂ sequestered by Climeworks to each of the guests at our inauguration in October 2021 instead of useless corporate gifts. This is also why you will not find disposable water bottles or meat dishes at our events. We will not validate your parking tickets but you will always find a place for your bike or a bus stop nearby. A few eco-gestures that won't change the world, but that motivate us every day to do good, differently, and on our scale.
That's why, when the time came to upgrade our first web showcase the question naturally arose: "Can we do better, at our scale?" After some thought, we set 5 main goals for this project:
- Create an efficient website with a reduced impact on the climate while maintaining the quality of the user experience
- Value local know-how
- When possible, opt for local services, preferably Swiss or European, as well as free and open technologies
- Respect the personal data of our web visitors by eliminating the use of "cookies"
- Share our experience with you so that you can easily replicate it in your company, and thus reduce your own impact
In this first article, we are going to introduce you to the team we have put together for this project. They are two partners from the region who are as committed as they are competent and who will first explain to us why we must work to reduce the climate impact of information technology. They are John Rubattel and Aurélien Borst, web developers at TAGADART, and Louise Aubet, R&D manager at Resilio.
Interview with Aurélien Borst, Louise Aubet et John Rubattel:
John and Aurélien, could you introduce us to TAGADART?
John: "TAGADART is a multi-skilled communication agency whose mission is to accompany its clients in a creative, simple and effective strategic approach. In an ever-changing market, we are continually looking for the latest innovations and unique, tailored communication experiences, where ethics and the human touch remain the focus."
Why did you respond to our call for an innovative and effective web page?
John: "The seriousness of the climate situation as well as the current energy crisis is on everyone's mind. As companies are mainly responsible for climate change, TAGADART must bring new ecological solutions in its digital activities proposed to its customers.
In the current context, the CLIMACT project has naturally taken us to heart in order to bring our skills in the development of an eco-responsible website by reducing its energy consumption and associated CO₂ emissions. Our mission, through this project, is to make people aware of the cost generated by our daily use of the Web and to improve the perception and understanding of the energy issues of the digital sector among the economic sector and the public.
Louise, can you introduce us to Resilio?
Louise: "Resilio is a start-up supported by EPFL, which offers training, consulting and environmental impact analysis services around responsible digital. Our mission is to accompany organizations in their transition to digital sobriety. Our team of engineers and experts is passionate about the innovative and eco-design potential of digital services, in order to develop a parsimonious, thoughtful and sustainable use of high-tech."
Why is it crucial to focus on digital sobriety today?
Louise: "We often think of digital as 'virtual', 'dematerialized', because we don't see the impacts before our eyes. In reality, digital is very concrete and material.
Let's take the web for example, it's a very telling example. We imagine the web as totally immaterial, a big cloud that would contain the answers to our questions. However, we need a smartphone or a computer to access it, data centers to store the data and perform the calculations and cables and antennas to allow these different devices to communicate. All this is very real and generates environmental impacts.
The digital sector currently represents about 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And this impact is growing very fast! According to estimates, between 2010 and 2025, it will be multiplied by 3. In 2025, the emissions related to the digital sector would represent as much as those of the global truck fleet (Source: GreenIT, Global Digital Footprint, 2019).
Moreover, our digital equipment is made up of non-renewable resources. A smartphone contains more than 50 different metals: gold and copper for electrical circuits, lithium for batteries, etc. For all these metals and minerals, deposits are increasingly difficult to find and less and less productive. If we want to avoid resource shortages, we must therefore use them sparingly.
Thus, to limit its impact on the environment and allow future generations to also have access to it, it is crucial to work on digital sobriety now."
Aurélien, can you explain to us where digital pollution comes from?
Aurélien: "I think it is already important to define digital pollution and to be aware of the problem, because it is too often ignored by the public.
ADEME estimates that digital electricity consumption comes mainly from three sources:
- 30% of equipment (computers, phones, etc.), which reads data and presents content.
- 30% of datacenters, that is to say the server farms that host the data.
- 40% of networks, which transmit data from data centers to your equipment.
A few more examples:
- The digital pollution of emails (networks) 80% of emails are never opened. A person would receive, on average, 1000 newsletters per year. This represents more than 9 kg of CO₂ emissions per year per person.
- The digital pollution of streaming (networks)
- The digital pollution of data centers
- In short, a data center of 10,000 m2 consumes on average as much as a city of 50,000 inhabitants 3.
- The digital pollution of equipment
- In 2019, 34 billion pieces of computer equipment were manufactured
- Between extracting the components, assembling the product in factories around the world and transporting them to the point of sale, it is estimated that the manufacture of a laptop computer emits an average of 100 kg of CO₂ and requires extract 600 kg of raw materials. This can represent up to 90% of its emissions over its entire life cycle4.
As a web developer, how can you advise the general public?
Aurélien: "We have the responsibility to advise our clients and the public on the impact of web choices and behaviors.
Today, everything encourages us to consume more. 5G is coming, transfer speeds are faster than ever, the range of services is gargantuan and the number of connected devices is simply ridiculous.
For example, here are some practical tips:
1. Keep your devices as long as possible. Phone, computer, laptop, there are often ways to repair them rather than replace them. Like with repair-cafe. When a device is no longer in use, do not keep it in the drawers! It
can be reused or recycled! If you change your appliance, choose the second-hand market or reconditioned appliances that are often guaranteed.
2. Reduce the resolution of your videos. Do you really need 4K? If you want to know more: https://theshiftproject.org/article/climat-insoutenable-usage-video/
3. Disable automatic video playback
4. Choose downloaded music and streaming audio platforms over video clips
5. Store your photos on a local storage. Transferring data consumes 2 times more energy than storing it for 1 year.
6. Sort your email regularly. Delete sent messages, spam, junk mail
7. Install an extension that will measure your CO₂ consumption and your downloaded data: a. Carbonwiz. Swiss made, CO₂ and data b. Greenit. French Tech, water, CO₂ and data
It's been almost six months since we started this project and you, the reader, are reading this article about our new website! Not only is it much faster to use than the old Wordpress-based site, it is also more comprehensive and informative, while offering a bilingual and inclusive experience.
But have we achieved our goal of creating an effective website with less impact on the climate? Can we do better?
In the second part of this article, you will discover the tools implemented by the TAGADART team, the Resilio analysis as well as the next steps on our roadmap to continuously improve our site and the framework. We will also introduce you to the latter, which you can use to improve your own web showcase.
You can also watch the seminar on digital sobriety and read Johann Recordon's article to learn more.
More about CLIMACT :
Don't miss our upcoming events and CLIMACT seminar series, read our articles and follow us on Twitter (@ClimactSuisse and @ClimactSwiss) as well as on Linkedin to stay informed of all our news.
1: The global internet, Phenomena report, 2018. (https://www.sandvine.com/hubfs/downloads/phenomena/2018-phenomena-report.pdf)
2: The World Bank, 2020. (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.KT?locations=CH,)
3: IEA, data centers and data transmission networks, 2022.(https://www.iea.org/reports/data-centres-and-data-transmission-networks )
4: “Plus c’est grand, plus ça pollue”, greenpeace.fr.