Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The ‘Carbon Footprint’ of Ads and Stats on Media Websites

Caroline Schneider and Clément Le Biez, of Marmelab:

What is the environmental impact of visiting the homepage of a media site? What part do advertising, and analytics, play when it comes to the carbon footprint? We tried to answer these questions using GreenFrame, a solution we developed to measure the footprint of our own developments.

The results are insightful: up to 70% of the electricity consumption (and therefore carbon emissions) caused by visiting a French media site is triggered by advertisements and stats. Therefore, using an ad blocker even becomes an ecological gesture. But we also suggest actions web editors could take to reduce this impact.

I have qualms with this. The idea of a “carbon footprint” was invented by British Petroleum to direct focus away from environmental policies that would impact its business, instead blaming individuals for not recycling correctly or biking to work more. A “carbon footprint” is also a simplistic view of how anything contributes to global warming, and that it seems to be used here as a synonym for bandwidth and CPU consumption. And, finally, the study’s authors say the entire digital technology industry accounts for “4% of global greenhouse gas emissions”; even if everyone blocked ads and tracking for the entire web, that only represents a tiny fraction of this industry’s environmental impact.

That is where I think this well-intentioned study falters. Even so, it is absurd that up to 70% of a media website’s CPU and bandwidth consumption is dedicated to web bullshit. Remember: the whole point of web bullshit is that it is not just the ads, it is about an entire network of self justifying privacy hostile infrastructure constructed around them.