Digital sustainability – why is it important and what are we doing?


Digital technology and the internet are major contributors to climate change. In this post, Katie and Geraint in the Digital Experience team discuss what you can do to help improve digital sustainability, and what we in the team are doing to try and be more sustainable.

What is digital sustainability and why is it important? 

Digital sustainability is what we can do to reduce our impact on the planet’s resources. Not just at work, but in all areas of our lives where we use digital.

Many people assume that digital technology is ‘clean’ because it doesn’t create visible pollution. The internet is actually responsible for 4% of global carbon emissions – equivalent to the entire aviation industry. 

The digital world is not excluded from sustainability. ‘Digital’ includes: 

  • Physical objects like laptops, computers, mobiles, monitors and accessories. 
  • Data (webpages, photos, emails, software) – stored in huge data centres that use large amounts of electricity and water to cool the servers. 

The rate that we produce and store data means we are compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, because we are consuming digital products and data at an unsustainable rate.

“Up to 90% of digital data is not used. We collect. We store. We create and then don’t use. Data is the atomic structure of digital. Words, music, images, films, videos, software. It all ends up as data. Most data is like single use, throwaway plastic. What sort of society accepts 90% waste?

If you must do something, do something useful. That often means not doing, removing, minimizing, cleaning up.”

Gerry McGovern, ‘World Wide Waste’.

A bar graph titled 'Global data Creation is About to Explode'. It shows the actual and forecast amount of data created worldwide between 2010 and 2035, increasing from 2 zettabytes in 2010, to a projected 2,142 zettabytes in 2035.
A slide from a Gerry McGovern talk about his book ‘World Wide Waste’.

What you can do to be more digitally sustainable 

In September 2023, Web Sustainability Guidelines were published for the first time, by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international public-interest non-profit organisation. Principles from these guidelines that everyone can follow include: 


  • Turn off your second monitor at work if you’re not using it
  • Keep your devices for longer – don’t be tempted to upgrade. Recycle them responsibly
  • Buy reconditioned products, rather than new
  • Turn off your camera when videoconferencing
  • Stream less video
  • Turn off your devices when not using them, rather than putting them to sleep

Content creation

  • Know what information your users want
  • Make sure your content is useful to your audience
  • Plan your users’ journeys
  • Make content easy to find – this will reduce the time users spend trying to find the answers they need
  • Actionable content – clear calls to action means that your content has a purpose
  • Plan for when your content will be reviewed or deleted
  • Make content accessible so that everyone can benefit from it
  • Use text instead of images
  • Use less text
  • Optimise images

What the team is doing 

We want digital sustainability to be a fundamental element and core value of what we do here in the Digital Experience team. Here are some of the things we’re currently doing: 

Deleting content 

We recently commissioned a consultant to do a review of our content on, recommending unviewed content that we should delete. He identified that 25% of our pages could be deleted! These were mostly old news and events pages over three years old, that hardly anyone was looking at. 

As well as cleaning up our digital clutter, this has also helped with search engine optimisation (SEO), making it easier for our users to find up-to-date and relevant content. 

User centred design 

We take a user centred design approach to our work, thinking of what the user wants to do on our website (complete a task, find a piece of information) and helping them to easily do this without barriers.

This requires more focused content – less words, less paragraphs, resulting in less content overall. Our user centred approach also helps make the website more accessible to everyone.

Page weight 

We try to keep the size of our pages as low as possible by optimising images, minimising content and code, and generally trying to make the page load quickly. We use tools like Google Lighthouse to measure how pages are performing, and identify where we can improve. 

Other things we could do

  • Share the digital sustainability ‘gospel’ with others, for example as part of the training we offer
  • Review the hardware we’re using – replace laptops less often; use one additional screen instead of two
  • Use green hosting – this could potentially lower our website emissions by up to 30%


Hannah Smith is a green web evangelist who says: “tech people are enormously privileged. We have to be the catalysts of change”

We are all users of tech and digital, and as responsible digital citizens, we have a duty to minimize the negative environmental impact of our online activities.

The small things that we improve can have a huge impact if everyone does it. 


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