What’s the cost of reading this?

Richard Rooney
Wednesday 17 January 2024

What is it costing for you to read this latest update from the Digital Communications team?

We didn’t charge you, so it must be free, right?

Wrong. There is a cost. It’s just not one most of us usually consider. But after our team attended a Scottish Web Folk conference hosted by the University of Dundee, it’s one we can’t stop thinking about.

So what is this cost? Energy. And our planet’s resources.

Digital sustainability – how much electrical energy content takes to produce, to serve and for users to find and consume – was a common and often startling theme throughout the event.

It is reported that:

  • The Internet consumes more energy than the entire UK.
  • The power needed to operate all of the technology that brings content to our screens is responsible for more carbon emissions than the airline industry.
  • Every website we visit, and every moment we spend on a page, adds to this energy cost.

Shocked? We were. And so was every other university represented on the day. It was obvious that this is an issue on which we will all increasingly be judged.

Taking action

So we did our own sums.

Lewis Wake calculated that each time the University homepage was loaded it would emit the equivalent of 0.72g of carbon dioxide. Over the course of a typical year this would amount to 1.2 TONNES of CO2.

We had to act. Simply resizing images on the page cut that environmental cost by more than 36%. It’s a start. But just the start.

What’s next?

The good news is that digital is still much more efficient than physical media. But it is clear there is so much more we must do.

Thanks to Scottish Web Folk, we have a new determination to make sure that everything we publish is as light, efficient and effective as it can be. Our users should be able to find what they need without spending any more time or energy than is absolutely necessary.

That means treating every word, page, PDF, image and video as an environmental cost that we need to be able to justify.

Sustainability is a pillar of the University strategy. We want to do more to play our part.

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