Resource image of a programmer at work Andrii Starunskyi / . / iStockphoto
The result of the equation casts no doubt. Programming a website requires electricity to function. The more it weighs, the more energy it demands. And so proportionally with everything that travels through the Internet, be it a humble email or a search engine. Result: the higher the HTML, the higher the environmental impact. Aware of this direct relationship, Danny van Kooten, creator of the WordPress plugin – a piece of code that extends the functions of a program or tool – that helps page owners use the Mailchimp mass mailing service, decided do your bit in the fight against the climate emergency by reducing the lines of code you have created.
Every time someone installed the plugin, they increased the weight of their website. It consumed more power because the server had to send the browser not only the information from the page itself, but also the information from the Van Kooten code. As he explains, it is very important to take this process into account because it is exponential, on websites with millions of visits and different plugins working on all of them. “I rewrote part of the HTML to optimize the use of the code. According to my estimates, these small changes have reduced CO2 emissions by 59 tons per month, the same as stopping my car driving about 421,000 kilometers ”, he says.
Tackling the climate change caused by technology right now is even more important. The coronavirus crisis has migrated much of work and services to the digital world. Or what is the same, to websites and servers that support unprecedented traffic. A global information exchange that triggers the carbon footprint. One study indicates that data centers currently consume between 1% and 3% of the electricity of the entire planet. “If we don’t promote green programming, this percentage, and more so with the context we live in, will skyrocket to 13% in less than 10 years. Activity on the Internet does not stop growing ”, he reasons.
As if tackling sustainability wasn’t enough, Van Kooten’s modifications help improve page loading speed. With the same connection, it transfers all the data sooner because it weighs less. An essential starting point for a group of students to design a new Instagram filter based on reducing the size of the image by 40%. Apart from seducing users with its retro aesthetics, with certain adjustments in the programming they put an end to that annoying loading icon, both when uploading the retouched photo and when accessing the timeline.
In the event that we don’t know where to start modifying the code, WebsiteCarbon.com can give us a hand. Calculate the carbon dioxide footprint of any website and check if the server that hosts it works with renewable energy. “Any element that consumes electricity is a problem for the environment. If a page can consume a lower amount of energy while maintaining its functionality, it will always be positive, ”says Van Kooten.
In Barcelona, precisely, a single 30-watt solar panel is responsible for ensuring that a sustainable version of Low Tech Magazine is still accessible to users. The small battery that it uses to store electricity allows it not to fall during the nights and in winter. But it has some limitations. “If too many people are browsing the web and the sun isn’t shining, it’s not uncommon for them to go offline for a short period of time,” says Van Kooten.
HTML reprogramming has proven useful against climate change. However, it is also convenient to rethink our digital routines, such as that “thank you” with which we respond to thousands of emails. Mike Berners-Lee, a professor at Lancaster Univerty who specializes in analyzing the carbon footprint, estimated that if each British adult sent a thank you email less per day, they would stop emitting 16 tons of CO2 annually, the same as going back and forth in plane from Madrid to New York about 22 times in a row.
In the words of Van Kooten, it is about measuring the energy impact of each click. “It is the only way to program sustainably. Promote an ecological software design among all ”. His experience has changed his working method, even if it was not even premeditated. When he began to fiddle with the code, he did not have in mind to reduce the energy consumption involved in installing the plugin. “I spent a week thinking about how to improve its performance without affecting functionality. The end result was much better because I also contributed to preserving the environment ”.
The commitment to a less polluted world spans multiple areas. From the political, with a European Union that looks to the horizon of 2050 as the ceiling to reach a climate neutral planet, to programming, as Van Kooten has shown and a whole green HTML movement. “It is worth spending some time during the development of a page to find where to reduce carbon dioxide. We have to raise awareness among programmers, no matter how dizzying the times we live in, “he concludes.