It's time to face the truth: the invisible trail of our digital habits is far from harmless. Over the past three years, the digital landscape expanded as businesses raced to embrace remote work, e-commerce, and virtual connections.
Behind the screens, however, the environmental cost of our digital activities was piling up – with energy-guzzling data centres and carbon-emitting emails lurking in the shadows.
As the world continues to rely on digital technology, it's time to reevaluate the environmental impact of our online habits and implement sustainable practices.
Unmasking the Carbon Cost of Digital Marketing
Data centres consume vast amounts of energy, and even seemingly innocuous activities like sending emails contribute to our carbon footprint. As our digital lives generate significant emissions, businesses must urgently address the environmental impact of their online activities.
In fact, the collective power usage from digital initiatives surpasses that of the aviation industry, and our shift towards digital marketing initiatives is literally costing the earth.
Did you know? A single digital advertising campaign can produce enough carbon dioxide to equal more than 160 round-trip flights between Paris and New York - an astounding amount of pollution. Moreover, an email marketing campaign sent to 100 people equates to the carbon emissions of 67 flights between Amsterdam and Rome!
Natalie Welch, co-founder of the Typeface Group, underscores the importance of understanding the carbon impact of our digital actions. "When you consider that sending an email with a photo or an attachment generates about 50 grams of carbon, think about alternative ways to use that carbon for a greater impact," she says.
Embracing Sustainable Business Practices in the Digital Age
To minimise their digital carbon footprint, businesses must adopt sustainable practices.
One approach is to reconsider digital marketing strategies. Welch suggests focusing on better segmentation to improve business results while reducing carbon emissions. "Generic email marketing should cease, not only due to its carbon footprint but also because people aren't really reading them," she explains.
The cost of excessive supply chain waste in digital advertising and its environmental impact has been revealed in research by investment analysis group Ebiquity and emissions measurement firm Scope3.
The two analysed over $US375 million of digital advertising spend across 116 billion display ad impressions from 43 brand advertisers. They discovered that 15.3% of advertising spend is wasted on inventory that generates no value, while producing excessive amounts of CO2 emissions.
Small Changes Lead to a Big Impact
Reducing your digital carbon footprint doesn't always require drastic measures. Sometimes, small adjustments can make a significant difference.
Natalie shares her experience with autoresponders: "I realised the impact of autoresponders on people's inboxes and decided to turn mine off. It all adds up when you consider the number of emails you send in a month, including autoresponders. These emails take up space on servers, requiring energy to run. It's the small things that can make a difference. We can't all do everything, but if we all start to do something, it will have a significant positive impact."
Reassessing Digital Habits for a Sustainable Future
To clean up their digital act, businesses should reevaluate their online habits. Natalie suggests examining your email and social media usage, and asking yourself if it's genuinely serving you or merely adding to the noise. "For example, consider whether you need out-of-office messages for normal work hours or if sending short emails to acknowledge receipt is necessary," she says. "By setting parameters and reassessing your digital behaviour, you'll not only improve your mental health but also clean up your digital act."
Prioritising Digital Sustainability in Purpose-Driven Companies
For purpose-driven companies and sustainable brands, being aware of their digital carbon footprint is crucial.
Natalie explains: "The line between greenwashing and genuine sustainability becomes blurred when you claim eco-friendliness without tracking your carbon emissions. Many businesses in the sustainable and renewable space may not realize the impact of their digital footprint. However, it's essential to start learning about it and making improvements now. As digital emissions become part of the mainstream conversation, those who have taken steps to address their impact will be ahead of the curve."
Liana Fricker, Founder and Inspirer-in-Chief at Inspiration Space, shares her approach to assessing digital emissions:
"In our low carbon accelerator, we focus on implementation after completing the initial carbon literacy bootcamps. We work with Small99 and use their Hero tool to assess our digital emissions. First, I listed all our software providers and evaluated their usage and costs. Next, I conducted a forensic analysis using their template and contacted every provider, noting their sustainability policies when available. Then, I signed up for SageEarth, which connects to our cloud-based accounting tool. We can easily track our Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, particularly in software, because it genuinely matters for a tech-enabled company like ours."
Taking Action for a Greener Digital World
Reducing digital emissions and increasing the ROI on digital marketing is vital for businesses today.
Here are five things to note as you embark on this journey:
Rethink Digital Marketing Strategies: Natalie suggests that businesses should focus on better audience segmentation to improve results and reduce carbon emissions. By avoiding generic email marketing campaigns, businesses can minimise their digital footprint and increase engagement with their target audience.
Optimise Email Usage: Business owners should review their email habits and evaluate the necessity of certain practices, such as out-of-office messages during regular work hours or sending brief acknowledgment emails. Reducing email volume can help lower digital emissions and maintain a clutter-free inbox.
Embrace Sustainable Business Practices: Implementing sustainable practices across all aspects of a business, from digital marketing to green hosting, can help reduce a company's digital carbon footprint. This, in turn, can increase efficiency and enhance the brand's eco-friendly image.
Just start: Natalie emphasises that small adjustments can make a significant difference in reducing digital emissions. For example, consider turning off autoresponders to decrease the number of sent emails. Encouraging employees to adopt similar changes can collectively create a positive impact on the environment.
Track, Measure and Swap: Utilising tools and services like Small99's Hero tool or SageEarth make it easier to track your digital emissions and find smart cost-effective swaps across your Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. This information can guide informed decision-making on digital marketing strategies and ensure alignment with sustainability objectives.
By incorporating these five key actions into your daily operations, you'll quickly work towards minimising your digital emissions while maximising the return on investment in digital marketing efforts.
It's time for businesses to clean up their digital act and create a more environmentally responsible and aware industry. With collective action, we can reduce the environmental cost of our digital activities and ensure our creativity doesn't cost the earth.
About The Typeface Group
The Typeface Group is a B Corp communications agency and design studio that began its sustainability journey in 2019.
Their approach involves helping clients become more carbon considered by making goals based on their carbon footprint and offering sustainable solutions.
Typeface Group offers a free digital cleanup campaign to support those looking to clean up their digital acts. By signing up, participants will receive daily emails with actionable tips on improving their digital carbon footprint and other environmentally friendly practices.