The how and why behind increasing CO2 savings, and how businesses can reduce overall bandwidth and cut the number of emissions their websites and apps produce.

Tal Lev-Ami, Co-Founder and CTO, Cloudinary

June 29, 2023

4 Min Read
green leaf footprint
Lalith Herath via Alamy Stock

By 2025, Gartner estimates that 50% of CIOs will have specific performance metrics directly tied to energy consumption. As sustainability mandates trickle down from chief executives to tech leaders, companies are paying closer attention to the energy consumption used to power their organizations.

At the same time, according to Website Carbon Calculator, the internet consumes more electricity than the entire UK economy, which in turn means it produces carbon emissions equal to or greater than the global aviation industry.

Consider this: an average website produces 4.61 grams of CO2 for every page view. For websites that have an average of 10,000 page views per month, that’s equal to 553 kilograms of CO2 per year. Thus, businesses that successfully attract millions of views can fall victim to their own success in the sustainability department. And most are generating substantial carbon emissions without realizing it.

It's safe to say that if you're a business with a digital presence looking to execute sustainability goals, it's time to take a closer look at the ways to reduce the energy consumption of your websites and apps.

The Environmental and Financial Cost of Bandwidth

Bandwidth is defined as the rate and/or amount of data transferred across a given path during a given period. For websites, bandwidth usage is often largely accounted for by the most data-intensive elements of the page: images and videos. Given how much value those assets bring to a business in terms of consumer engagement and conversion, they can’t just use fewer images and videos. Instead, they need to focus on reducing their data burden.

Bandwidth is also expensive. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 5 kilowatt-hours of energy is required to deliver every GB of data, which equates to about $0.51 of energy costs -- and producing 3 kg of CO2. These numbers multiply significantly for brands that host a large content gallery of videos and images, such as e-commerce sites.

Optimal Formats, Effective Caching, and CDNs Make Work Light

Just like each website element requires different data levels to support them, different file formats consume different levels of bandwidth. For example, newer image formats like WebP, AVIF, JP2, HEIC, and JPEG XL can cut bandwidth requirements significantly. Additionally, using JPEG XL instead of JPEG could cut global data usage by up to 30%. The same is true for some video codecs -- as using the AV1 codec, which was designed to improve video transmission online by compressing videos more efficiently, can use 20-50% less data than video codecs like H.264 or H.265.

Effective caching, on the other hand, reduces bandwidth by bypassing the web server’s need to request content from the back-end server every time. Instead, it creates a temporary storage area that mimics the content of the site. Another trick of the trade is to use a content delivery network (CDN) -- a network of interconnected servers that are distributed geographically to provide speedier internet content delivery. By using a CDN, the cache can be placed physically closer to users, which means there will be less traffic needed as users access the site, minimizing the CO2 footprint.

Last but not least, lazy loading principles are key. With lazy loading, images and videos are only loaded as the visitor scrolls down the site to view them, reducing the energy required to transfer data. For businesses looking to be more conscious of their bandwidth, they should ensure they use the latest lazy loading capabilities available in browsers.

Leverage Automation to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Figuring out how to manage all of this manually can be a daunting prospect. But with the support of automation, brands can reduce the level of bandwidth prevalent on their sites. And in doing so, generate a massive decrease in CO2 emissions. For example, there are optimization tools that programmatically select the optimal file size for each image and video without compromising quality in the eyes of the consumer -- reducing their data burden and, thus, bandwidth.

This theory has been proven many times by our customers. In one instance, a leading international sports apparel brand reduced its bandwidth consumption by 40% from 6.8 TB/day to 4.05 TB/day, an annual savings of 618 TB of bandwidth or 1,890 tonnes of CO2 by simply reducing the file size of video and image content. This savings is equivalent to taking more than 400 gasoline-powered cars off the road or conserving enough energy to power 368 homes for a year.

Adopting optimization tools that handle all these things is undoubtedly the easiest and most complete way to minimize bandwidth quickly. But even if you’re not in the market to integrate a new tool into your tech stack, you can make a major difference in your sustainability efforts by focusing on the recommendations above.

Bandwidth Reduction is Performance Optimization

Sustainability remains a complex yet critical topic of discussion for the enterprise and of course the future of our planet. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to combat rising CO2 emissions, CIOs can deliver quick, effective, and measurable successes by prioritizing bandwidth reduction. Not only will it help deliver on corporate-level sustainability OKRs, but it also saves a lot of money. It’s a win-win for all, including the planet. And who doesn’t love that?

About the Author(s)

Tal Lev-Ami

Co-Founder and CTO, Cloudinary , Cloudinary

Tal Lev-Ami is co-founder and CTO of Cloudinary, a provider of leading media experience solutions. Tal is a superb technologist and has been leading R&D teams for nearly 20 years. Tal holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science, which he received from Tel-Aviv University in 2009 under the supervision of Prof. Shmuel Sagiv.

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