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  • Writer's pictureJen Haken

How Big is your Digital Marketing Carbon Footprint?

Updated: Feb 6

Power station with five or six large towers with white vapour pouring out of most of them, and two tall, against a blue sky with clouds.
Power station

And another question – how environmentally sustainable is your business?

Our planet is experiencing a climate emergency and we all have a part to play in slowing it down. This is why I ask: How big is your digital marketing carbon footprint?

With Greenpeace campaigning on climate change for decades, why on Earth (forgive the pun) has it taken this long for most of us to suddenly sit up and take notice?

Things have been going haywire on our planet for years. It’s as if the fires in Australia have finally woken everyone up to the climate change emergency. Even despite Greta Thunberg and all her passionate campaigning. And how can we forget the well-meaning antics of Extinction Rebellion over the past couple of years? However controversial their activism is, it’s important. We need to listen, learn, and do far more, both in our homes and our businesses.

In the home, there’s a lot that you can do if you haven’t started already. From reducing waste and recycling as much as possible to keeping overseas travel to a minimum. Buying sustainable products from local producers instead of ordering goods online. And ensuring our homes and offices are as energy-efficient as possible.

Changing habits

It’s a difficult learning curve for many of us. It means changing habits of a lifetime, but we need to learn quickly. Future generations depend on us. Check out this helpful advice from Greenpeace on making better choices for the environment.

I’m not professing to be an environmental expert by any means. But most of us do have an understanding, at least, of what we need to do. For instance, I’m trying hard to avoid buying anything plastic (difficult when the supermarkets still have so much packaging), cutting down on our meat consumption (we’ll never give it up completely!), and trying not to use the car too much.

Even tea bags have plastic in them! [UPDATE JAN 2024: Not anymore! Check your local supermarkets.] So, I’m making pots of tea with tea leaves, which is quite a pleasurable ritual. It gives me a chance to get away from my desk for longer, stretch my legs while the tea is brewing, and have a few moments to quieten my mind, instead of my usual rushed dunk of a tea bag, tiny splash of milk (I hate milky tea!) and dash back to my desk before the computer goes into sleep mode. Now, I let it.

Pros and cons of digital technology

Digital technology is a wonderful thing. It can help to bring people out of poverty in the developing world. Social media platforms bring people together from around the world. I've had personal experience as I’m in some international Facebook groups that inform and support carers of loved ones with eating disorders. I’ve made some close friends online and even met some of them (umm, yeah – black mark against my carbon footprint with my transatlantic flights!).

Another pro – recently, a survey of 5,000 digital users across five countries was carried out. Most respondents agreed that their digital media use had improved their quality of life and/or their professional development. Digital technology gave them the ability to carry out work and collaborate easily. No doubt you have discovered these benefits for yourself, as have I.

But it’s not all good news. In this article written by John Harris for The Guardian, he writes about how the energy used in our digital consumption is set to have a bigger impact on global warming than the entire aviation industry.

“Irrespective of the good work carried out by some tech giants, and whether or not you take seriously projections that the entire communication technology industry could account for up to 14% of carbon emissions by 2040, one stark fact remains: the vast majority of electricity used in the world’s data centres comes from non-renewable sources, and as their numbers rapidly increase, there are no guarantees that this will change.” John Harris, The Guardian

What can you do about your digital marketing carbon footprint?

We may not be able to do much about how the world’s data centres power the data we currently rely on (or can we? Discuss…). But at least here in the UK, Defra has written some guidelines to help you carry out an initial assessment of the impact your organisation’s ICT has on your digital carbon footprint.

And if you believe the Government will do what it says it’ll do, read about how it intends to support the global Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 here. With 17 goals, a number of them include ecological developments as well as urgent action to combat climate change. Eradicating extreme poverty and fighting inequality and injustice are also on the list. Let’s hope they can achieve them all.  [UPDATE JAN 2024: Have you seen any evidence of that? I'm not sure that I have!]

Traditional marketing methods

When it comes to digital marketing, I doubt it will ever stop. Especially once the world’s data centres start using renewable sources of power.

In the meantime, I wonder if resorting to traditional marketing methods may increase. At least trees are replanted – that’s far more sustainable and helps to reduce CO2 emissions. Let’s get back to good old-fashioned methods of writing sales letters and producing literature! It feels good to give a customer or client a beautifully produced and printed brochure of your products, with all those gorgeous photos and crackingly good copy. The weight and feel of the stock ... the smell of the inks! Love it.

[UPDATE JAN 2024: There's an increasing number of web developers who create websites with low carbon impact, and more help available on being greener in the office.]

So, whether you’re feeling nostalgic for traditional marketing methods and want to help the environment by having some copy written, or need some help with creating content for your digital marketing, drop me a line. I'm here to free up your time.

Right. I’m off to make a cuppa. With tea leaves, of course. Actually, I think it's wine time! Please, please don’t tell me that wine production has an environmental impact. If it does, I think I’ll cry…



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