Ecommerce and RetailContent MarketingEmerging Technology

Clear Your Cloud: How Brands Can Slash Bandwidth and Reduce CO2 Emissions

The environment and sustainability are increasingly top of mind for consumers. And retailers believe their sustainability efforts are paying off.

Nearly 80 percent of U.S. consumers consider sustainability when making at least some purchases, and nearly 80 percent of retailers believe their sustainability efforts are having a positive impact on customer loyalty.

Sensormatic Solutions

Many e-commerce brands already take sustainability seriously, but one often overlooked area for improvement is the CO2 footprint of the website itself.

55% of consumers purchased a sustainable product or service in the last month.

Deloitte, Sustainability in Retail

Part of the problem here is that there is no incentive to reduce traffic, so the solution resides only in improving efficiency. The other piece is that it’s easier said than done to track emissions that occur indirectly, as they do on a website.

Calculate A Site’s CO2 Footprint

Determining a website’s CO2 footprint can be quite complex. One oft-used source, the site Carbon Calculator, bases its calculations of a website’s CO2 emissions on five different data points:

  • The data transferred over the wire when a web page is loaded
  • The energy that is used at the data center
  • The telecoms networks
  • The end user’s computer or mobile device
  • The energy source used by a data center
  • The carbon intensity of electricity and the website traffic

The average web page tested by the site produces 1.76 grams of CO2 per page view. This adds up to 211 kg CO2 annually for a fairly small site that averages 10,000 monthly page views. Larger brands will surpass this number significantly. This is especially true in e-commerce as product galleries and image-based user reviews add a lot of additional page data.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the data transferred per site visitor; one of the main ones being bandwidth reduction. Bandwidth refers to the total amount of data transmitted over an internet or network connection in a given amount of time. It’s a factor of the number of visitors that a site attracts and the file sizes on the website. Many companies already do this to reduce costs and increase their web performance, but might have not analyzed this from an emissions perspective.

Reduce Emissions By Reducing Bandwidth: A Real-World Example

It is possible to reduce the bandwidth at the website’s end by using image and video optimization tools. In this context, optimization refers to delivering images and videos with the smallest possible file size while maintaining visual quality. Optimizing images and videos saves bytes and thus reduces bandwidth: the fewer bytes per asset, the lesser bandwidth is required.

Advanced image and video optimization tools use AI to automate this process and are the simplest way to optimize images and videos. These AI-based tools automatically set the optimal file format, file size, compression rate, and visual quality for an image or video on the fly, ensuring as little bandwidth as possible is used but still enough to display well on visitors’ devices.

For a real-world example, let’s look at how a leading retailer reduced the bandwidth of its image and video-rich websites and online experiences to see a big impact on CO2 emissions. The brand deployed media management solutions tools to automate image and video compression and reduced bandwidth consumption by 40%. Annualized, the company saved 618 TB of bandwidth, equal to 1,890 tons of CO2 saved.

Implement Other Easy Bandwidth Tips To Reduce CO2 Footprint

Even without AI tools, there are plenty of more manual options for brands to restrict their bandwidth consumption. A priority would be using smaller, lightweight image formats and video codecs for frequently used images and video. For instance, the AV1 codec was specifically designed to make video transmissions more efficient, and newer image formats like WebP, AVIF, JP2, HEIC and JPEG XL can cut bandwidth requirements significantly. The universal switch from JPEG to JPEG XL could alone reduce global data usage by 25 to 30%.

A few other tips to implement also include:

  • Compression – Compression can be used to reduce the file size of images or videos as well as other objects of a website. This can be done directly through HTTP compression for text-based content or by optimizing the JavaScript or CSS code directly.
  • Caching – A cache is a temporary storage area that mirrors a site or application’s content. Using a cache system eliminates the need for a site to request content from the backend server each time a visitor comes to the site, which reduces bandwidth load.
  • Content Delivery Network – Along with caching, a CDN caches sites geographically closer to the end-user, reducing the need for bandwidth back to the originating server.
  • Lazy loading. This technique only loads heavy visual elements of a website when needed, such as waiting to load only if a user scrolls down to where it is. Lazy loading means less data needs to be transferred and thus less energy is consumed.

So, How Clean Is Your Cloud?

The discussion about sustainability normally focuses on manufacturing and logistics, but all-encompassing sustainability plans should also consider digital footprints and bandwidth reduction.

Reducing CO2 emissions by lowering bandwidth is ultimately not only the right thing to do for the planet, but it’s also a way for e-commerce brands to gain new fans by going above and beyond to improve sustainability. As seen in the example above, small changes in digital strategy can make a big impact.

Saranya Babu

Saranya Babu is the Chief Marketing Officer for Cloudinary, the media experience cloud company for many of the world’s top brands. With more than 50 billion assets under management and 10,000 customers worldwide (Nike, Tesla, Peloton, Neiman Marcus, StitchFix and others), Cloudinary is the industry standard for developers, creators and marketers looking to create engaging visual experiences online for their customers. Saranya is a seasoned B2B marketing leader previously leading the marketing team at Wrike (acquired by Citrix in 2021) and Instapage, where she implemented, built and scaled sophisticated cross-functional marketing strategies. She has experience working in bootstrapped, VC funded, Private Equity owned, and public companies with proven success achieving 2X - 10X growth in revenue and valuation. She is a recipient of the 2021 Silicon Valley Women of Influence award and shortlisted in the 2020 B&T Women in Media award.

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