Does online marketing reduce CO2?

Posted by Phil


Yes, if you do it right, is the short answer, but don’t be too hasty to write off more traditional forms of communication.

Before you opt for an online campaign for its environmental creds, it’s worth thinking about the carbon emissions of the hidden side of the internet. Did you know that the information and communication technology industry has a carbon footprint now equal to the aviation industry? Or that it accounts for 10% of the UK’s energy bill?

Assuming that a typical website will be on a shared server, hosting another 100 or so, the power consumption is estimated to be less than 30.7kWh per site. This equates to a lot less than 0.01 tonnes of carbon dioxide produced per website per year. But that’s just the hosting, if we consider all the energy used to build the hardware, then run and maintain both server and user sides of the equation a typical page view is likely to require something more like 0.012 kWh. To put that into perspective, Facebook claims 260 billion page views per month. That’s 47 million kgs CO2 per day – the equivalent of burning 25 million litres of petrol, per day!* Hands up who’s using Facebook for marketing…

What about some carbon offsetting?

It’s not all bad news. As much as we like to be, we can’t all be a global social networking phenomenon, so compensating for our carbon footprint need not be such a burden.

If a typical tree absorbs a 100 tonnes of CO2 in its life, it will only take 1% of a tree to offset a typical website’s hosting annual carbon footprint. Plant a whole new tree and offset your own site and bank some for all the air-conditioning you have been using this summer!

Servers – how much does your server consume, where is it hosted, what hardware is required to run it and where does its power supply come from? A few lime top tips:

  • Blade servers tend to be much more energy efficient
  • The age of your server helps, the younger the better, just like the rest of us really
  • Solid state hard drives help save power
  • Hosting in cooler climes saves emissions and improves your green cred’s no end
  • A place that doesn’t require 24/7 round the clock security is an added bonus
  • And Wind or Solar powered hosting is better than carbon offset.

All these little things help make a difference.

How about if printing is needed for your project, as well as online, then what are the emission friendly options?

  • Print on 100% recycled carbon neutral paper whenever possible, 75% recycled is still way better than none at all
  • Use waterless vegetable inks
  • Choose a printer who offsets their energy consumption and delivers carbon neutral printing

It is not impossible to deliver a carbon neutral printed comm’s piece. As with all these things, there are some caveats, whilst carbon trading has slowly become an international industry of its own, the true effectiveness of carbon offsetting has yet to be proven and we must take into account the cost to deliver offline campaigns.

What do we do as we wait to see?

Don’t write-off printed campaigns to conform to environmental concerns, the most important thing is to aim for carbon neutral (or as near to it as possible) solutions, be they online or off and these days that need not cost a whole lot more. And if you haven’t changed your hosting for a few years, it might be worthwhile taking a look at the latest options.

As for lime, we have just moved over to carbon neutral hosting and offer a whole range of recycled printing options with environmentally friendly inks and paper – if you are a charity or a government organization we can advise how to save up to 20% off the cost of recycled papers via the DFT Recycled Printing Paper Framework – for some help or advice, call Phil on +44 20 7378 3456 or email