How to achieve climate neutrality on the internet: an interview with Erik Sommer, the initiator of „CO2-neutral website“
Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time. Awareness is growing that we need to act now. While many goals are being set globally and more and more people are paying attention to their consumption. One important factor usually goes unseen: the internet. Every single visitor, every click on a website causes CO2 emissions. The internet already accounts for about 3.7% of global emissions. This is even more than the country Japan with 3.2%.
Since construktiv has joined the „CO2-neutrale website“ initiative, we have better knowledge on how website emissions come about and how they can be reduced or compensated. To go directly to the interview with Erik, click here. By the way, the article and interview are also available in German.
The invisible consumer
Where do the CO2 emissions of your own website come from?
For many operators, their own website is initially an invisible medium. Here and there are bills to be paid, visitor numbers to be checked and keyword analyses to be made – but everything is digital! So where do the CO2 emissions come from? It starts where the website is located – namely on the server of a web hosting provider, unless the website is self-hosted, in which case the location of the server is ideally one’s own company. The resulting CO2 emissions are easily understood by the very definition of a server. After all, a server is nothing more than a computer that operates non-stop to ensure the availability of the website.
The second major factor involves the users. Every user who calls up a website must inevitably consume electricity to do so. Whether browsing via smartphone, tablet or PC, electricity consumption is measurable. Where electricity is consumed CO2 emissions are produced.
The triad of sustainability
As a website operator, the questions are: What needs to be done? How can I contribute to reducing my CO2 footprint? The first thing to do is to apply this important, generally valid triad: avoid, reduce, compensate.
But this is not so easy, especially when it comes to digital applications. Websites play a crucial role in the economy, hardly any business can do without them.
If you want to become climate neutral with your entire company, you should start by getting an orderly overview of all processes in the company that lead to CO2 emissions. This is also the case if the focus is initially on the website. Web hosting can also be quickly divided into individual points. Facts to be considered are on which server the website is located, how many people access the pages and from where. Unfortunately, there are only very few processes in web hosting that can be avoided, because almost every step is important and therefore essential.
What cannot be avoided should be reduced instead. For example, by sourcing the electricity needed to run the website from green electricity providers or, alternatively, by having the website hosted by a hoster who also uses green electricity. The performance of a website is also very important when it comes to reducing electricity consumption. An optimised website has much faster loading times and therefore significantly reduced electricity consumption.
After everything has been done to keep the carbon footprint of one’s website as small as possible, the next step is to offset the unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions – the last and most important stage.
If you want your website to be truly climate-neutral, you cannot ignore the importance of this step. The goal is now to offset or compensate for all emissions that cannot be saved through climate protection projects. One of the classic methods, as already mentioned, is to compensate for emissions caused by users. To achieve this goal, many providers offer targeted support of climate protection projects in exchange for certificates. In some cases, it is even possible to choose exactly which projects are going to be supported. For example, there is a choice between the development of energy efficiency projects, the financing of sustainable energy production with wind and water, and projects for reforestation, whereby the associated compensation effect only occurs after a few years when the tree grows. For this reason, there are also projects whose goal is to buy existing rainforest in order to protect these areas from dangers such as illegal clearing.
A website is therefore only climate-neutral when the CO2 emissions generated are calculated, reduced and finally also offset by climate protection projects. In the process, the CO2 emissions of the users must also be compensated.
Climate neutrality by click
What is behind the "Co2-neutral Website" certificate?
Big names like Krombacher or SWB rely on the „CO2-neutral website“ certificate to make their website climate-neutral – and there’s a reason for that: it is certainly not irrelevant from which provider which certificate is acquired. A clear structure, transparency and only projects certified by the Gold Standard are the essential aspects when choosing a suitable provider. With „co2-neutral website“ this is clearly the case. Water projects in Africa, wind energy projects in Turkey or rainforest projects in South America are supported and controlled by independent bodies.
We are one of over 2,500 companies from more than 50 countries that bear the initiative’s seal on their climate-neutral website.
What is the Gold Standard?
The Gold Standard was launched in 2003 by the World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF. It is intended to certify projects that are particularly effective, future-oriented and above all sustainable in reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or avoiding them through their actions. In the meantime, the award has been recognised by more than 80 NGOs as the most important certification for projects that reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.
Interview with Erik Sommer
Questions for the brain behind "CO2-neutral website"
Hi Erik, we’re very happy that you agreed to take part in an interview with us!
1. To start off I would like to ask you to introduce yourself and briefly explain what it was that brought you to found the initiative in 2009.
As early as in 2009, the internet had taken over the aviation industry in terms of emission of CO2. Therefore, we committed ourselves to help companies compensate for the CO2 emission stemming from their websites and share the good news with their users.
My background is wind turbines. I started being interested in the environment and what we can do as an individual and how even the smallest things can do something good.
2. What are the biggest sources of co2 emission regarding web hosting? What is especially important and how is it possible to minimize the own website’s co2 output.
Around 5 % of the CO2 emission comes from the hosting, 95 % of the CO2 emission comes from the visitors. This means that a company can only do something regarding the 5% which comes from the hosting.
3. You are supporting a specific range of projects around the globe. How are you deciding on which projects to invest in and what are your key criteria besides the gold standard?
When selecting methods to compensate for CO2 emissions, we prioritize as follows: Reducing CO2 through Gold Standard projects, Achieving social improvements in development countries, Contributing to establishing new renewable energy facilities (wind and solar) and Disseminating the message that CO2 compensation is a viable supplement to your total climate initiative.
To meet the ambitions for CO2 reductions and social improvements in development countries, we have engaged ourselves in different climate projects in Africa. We support the establishment of renewable energy sources, such as new and more efficient wind power plants. We only engage in countries in which we believe there can be a net-new effect of the expansion of renewable energy.
4. How much of the money paid for the certificate goes directly into the projects?
As an average over several years, it is roughly 90%.
5. From which continent and which country does the majority of your supporters come from?
Europe, Denmark. Germany is the second largest, but will soon overtake Denmark.
6. Why do you think this is the case and from which region are you planning to get more supporters?
We started the initiative in Denmark, and the Danish State was co-founder of the initiative.
This initiative was the first of its kind. Newspapers, radio stations etc. spread the word about the initiative, which helped the initiative to grow. Germany is our main focus beside Denmark, and we can see that companies from Germany, like Danish companies, are keen to prolong their participation, which is great, because then we know we are doing something right.
When you are part of CO2 Neutral Website, you not only strengthen your own sustainable profile. You also make it attractive for your users to choose your website over others.
Users prefer CO2-neutral websites.
7. How well does Europe do in terms of climate neutrality in comparison to other continents?
Europe is taking a leading role. But we cannot rely on governments alone. Private as well as companies have to contribute. As our project strengthens the business of our participants, while helping the climate, we see good opportunities for real impact.
8. Google and Facebook claim to obtain 100% of their energy from renewable sources. How important is this step?
Very important. It proves that businesses see advantages in taking climate friendly actions.
It’s very important, but Facebook, Google and other big companies can not control the user and how they get their energy – this is also why we have included the users CO2 emission in our calculations.
It is important whether you are a big or small company, that you do what you can do. Here is an initiative like ours a good start.
9. There are few industries as adaptable and as fast moving as the digital industry. What do you think of the recent development in the industry regarding climate neutrality
Very positive. But remember, the first steps taken were very costly – but they were still taken. Now companies can benefit from many actions. That can accelerate the change.
10. What do you think, is climate change still stoppable or revertable and what is most important now?
Yes, we can still do much. Key is that everyone contributes with actions, not just words. Our initiative is a good start for many companies.
11. What are you most excited for in the future, which direction are you heading with your initiative? Are there any plans of expanding your project?
I’m excited and pleased to see our initiative grow and contribute to people and companies to increase the recognition of CO2 reductions being important.
And what also pleases me, is the fact that our project delivers direct results on its own. We reduce CO2 emissions and we improve quality of life for families in developing countries. This is a win-win for the company and the planet and I hope even more companies would like to participate in the future.
Thank you so much for your time and your insightful answers, Erik!
>> Click here for the initiative co2neutralwebsite.com >>
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