Interview: Top tips from MindfulCommerce founders to reduce your digital carbon footprint

By Cat • 5 May 2021

What springs to mind when you hear the phrase "carbon footprint?" Planes? Traffic jams? Factory chimneys?

What about your website?

We thought not. So many people fail to recognise that while their digital properties may be hosted up on the intangible, organic-sounding "cloud" - this is actually being powered by very real, very resource-hungry data centres.

I, (Cat) dragged MindfulCommerce founders Krissie and Rich away from their surfboards for a few minutes to find out more ways to reduce our digital carbon footprints.


So then you two, what exactly is a digital carbon footprint?

Hi Cat! We're here, can't believe you dragged us out of the sea! Meanie.

So, our data is stored in physical data centres and it's transferred via the internet which takes energy from the planet. The transmission of data via the internet contributes to 4% of our greenhouse gas emissions. This is due to the millions of physical servers in data centres around the world, all taking a lot of energy to run. These data centres need energy, which comes from power sources that emit carbon dioxide into the air. And then there's the energy used to keep the data centres cool enough to not catch on fire!

Fun fact: Microsoft have actually undertaken an experiment to create underwater data centres so that they can be kept cool by the seawater!

Why is this phrase unfamiliar to so many brands?

Many brands don't realise their carbon footprint can be contributed to via the technology they use. But we're not only causing environmental damages through the use of physical items like computers or mobile phones (e-waste), we are also damaging the Earth through the ‘invisible’ internet.

I don't think it's a familiar phrase because we can't touch our digital footprint. It just isn't as tangible as getting on a flight or commuting to work. Just because we are conditioned to use the phrase "in the cloud", it doesn't mean that the internet is literally a fluffy puffy cloud in the sky somewhere!

So, every time you send an email, post on your Insta grid or story, you are damaging the environment. Don't worry too much about it though, it's all about balance. Just be mindful and make sure everything you do put out there on the internet - is absolutely necessary.

Why is this such a big deal for ecommerce brands?

We think it should be a big deal for everyone, but ecommerce brands have quite a lot of power to make a significant difference since almost everyone shops online. If all ecommerce brands started to reduce their digital carbon footprint, they'd be helping a vast majority of the world to do better as well. A better, greener ecommerce world means a better world in general.

What's one quick win ecommerce brands can action right away to reduce their DCF?

Offsetting doesn't solve everything, it's a great tool to have in our sustainability toolkit but we must reduce the levels of emissions being generated at source, first and foremost.

Perform a quick digital footprint audit. Look at your online store and ask yourself:

  • Do we really need all of these images?

  • Is this product video going to help consumers to make better decisions and reduce returns as a result? If not, do we really need it?

  • Do we need all of these apps or are we not using them and therefore collecting data for no reason?

  • If we need those images and videos, can we compress them using a (really simple) online tool, reducing the energy needed to store and load them on our site?

  • Could we use lazy loading?

  • Could we be more succinct in our messaging and focus on people spending less time on our site, rather than more?

Oh, and delete any emails you no longer need! Ok, sorry that wasn't one was it.

What's one bigger win that they can build towards?

  • Re-platform to Shopify if you aren't already or use green energy to power your website with a Jamstack and Headless Commerce approach

  • Be more mindful of the amount of emails you send e.g. no more one worded emails such as "thanks" or "ok see you then!"

Any good examples of brands going out of their way to reduce DCF already?

Yes - Organic Basics are killing it here. They offer a low impact website which reduced data load by 70% in comparison to their standard website - in addition to many other sustainability focused projects. It's a great way of increasing awareness, too! And they have the code for their low impact site available for the public to use themselves.

Finally, where can brands go for more information and help here?

Our Sustainability Framework! We quite literally wrote the ebook on how to "green up" your ecommerce business. Whether you're selling products online or your offering services and apps for ecommerce brands, we've got you covered. In it you'll find plenty of tips and advice for reducing impact in many areas of your operation, including shrinking that all-important digital carbon footprint.

Join The MindfulCommerce Community to continue the conversation today!