Digital Sustainability for small and micro businesses

Digital Sustainability for your Small Business[ 9 min read ]

Guest Blog by Rachael Shaw, Econsultant

It’s hard to avoid awareness of our personal impact on the planet these days. Beyond not buying plastic bottles, not eating meat, or using your car less there are some less visible but easy to adopt changes you can make, both in your personal life and in your business, which could significantly add to any reductions you’re trying to make.

At this time very few people are aware of the environmental impact of the internet, your emails, electronics you buy, etc, a quick search on Google Trends and Answer the Public shows that digital sustainability just isn’t on people’s radars, but yet it’s one of the easier changes to implement.
Let’s take a look at the stats and do some comparisons.

The Current Situation

The internet, websites/emails all generate a lot of electricity usage which in turn has a huge carbon footprint – the widely accepted amount is that 2% of global carbon emissions come from internet electricity usage.

This is equivalent to the aviation industry, which often comes under scrutiny for its activities OR another way to look at it, is if the Internet was a country, it would be the 6th largest polluter in the world, equivalent to Germany.

According to, the average web page today is nearly four times the size that it was in 2010 and is continuing to rise. As a result, it is estimated that the internet could grow to account for 3.5% of global carbon emissions within the next 10 years, at a time when we rapidly need to be reducing emissions from all industries.

It has been estimated that one Google search at a 7g carbon emission level, equates to  the same emissions as boiling water for a pot of tea, multiply that by the 2 trillion  searches conducted every day and it mounts up. The calculation here includes the electricity used locally and doesn’t account for the fact that Google is now carbon offsetting, but it helps paint the picture and put into perspective what this means to us on a more relatable level.

Emails can be even worse, the average email is around 4g but with a large attachment, we are looking at 50g.

The main cause of creating carbon emissions when using the internet is that each time you take an action on a website or perform a search, this creates a query that is sent to a server, which looks for the information and delivers it back to you. All this information, yes even if it’s stored in the Cloud, is hosted on servers. These servers need electricity to keep them running and especially to keep them cool. Servers are generally located in huge data centres which can be incomprehensibly large. The Citadel in Nevada is the largest on the planet but thankfully 100% powered by renewable energy. This is not the case elsewhere.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, some of the larger companies are already doing something about this;

  • Microsoft is committed to being carbon negative (which means removing more carbon each year than they generate but 2030 and by 2050 want to have removed ALL carbon impact from their operations since starting in 1975!)
  • Amazon plans to be net-zero by 2040, which means they will offset equal to their own emissions, but their cloud-based function AWS was already ahead of plan with over 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2018, they have even started to use recycled water in their cooling operations at the data centres.
  • Google is the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy and already matches 100 percent of its electricity consumption with the purchase of renewable energy and has done since 2017.

What can we do about this?

By now I can almost hear you shouting at me, “What can I do about this” Well luckily there are some really easy changes to make and you don’t even need to be super tech-savvy.

I’ve listed these in order of ease from “Takes 2 minutes while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil” through to “you might have to enlist the help of the lovely Smart Bears to help you make some website tweaks”

What I would suggest before you go headfirst into any changes, is that you take stock of where you are today, you could;

  • Record how many emails you send/receive daily,
  • Look at how many searches you perform,
  • Look at your energy usage in your place of work,
  • One of my personal favourites is that you can use a tool to test your website and the carbon impact it has. Try out which also gives you a widget to add to your website for monitoring.

Because after all, we can not manage things we cannot measure, and you want to be able to check-in with your progress and tell your customers and clients about how you are keeping yourselves accountable too!


We’ve saved the best until last, no really! Email marketing, it’s a love-hate thing, isn’t it? 

As small business owners, it’s likely you’ve had some thoughts about this since the GDPR was brought in here in the UK. Perhaps you lost a few subscribers? Well, even with this all, we believe that email marketing is still something you can think about in your marketing mix. It just depends on how you use it. 

Let’s get this a little perspective on this. Time for the BIG numbers! We send over 102 trillion emails every year. That is a massive number, so much so we’re not entirely sure how many noughts should be at the end of it (answers on a postcard please) 

Do you know what? That number is rising. 

The average person will get around 15 commercial emails per day, that’s over 400 a month! These are emails encouraging us to buy, spend, save, entertain and countless other things. There’s definitely an opportunity here! 

Think about last year, when both Facebook and Instagram went down. Do you remember the upset that it caused? A lot of businesses had some negative impact because of this, however, if they’d been using email marketing, then the show would definitely still be on. Even with a longer outage.

These days you can get really quite sophisticated tools, such as Mailchimp, Sendinblue and numerous others. These will allow you to segment your audience, create beautiful emails, but also send the right marketing messages to the right people, ie the people most likely to buy your stuff. That is really powerful stuff. 

If you make your emails relevant, highly personal and send them just at the right frequency for your target market, then targeted mailing potentially gives you a massive return on investment.


  • Delete old emails

    – and clear out your spam folder

  • Stop sending thank you emails/copying many people in

    – are they really needed?

  • Unsubscribe from email newsletters

    – especially the ones you never read!

  • Keep your email list small

    – remove unengaged users, but if you need a big list use plain text and remove the chain of text.

  • Conduct a website audit

    – and delete old pages/images

  • Limit or remove the use of custom fonts

    – this is also good design practice

  • Do a visual audit of your website

    – do you have unnecessary videos or animations that can be removed?

  • Work on compressing images

    – this will help your website load faster, too!

  • Look at caching mechanisms

    – so pages are downloaded not generated on the fly

  • Limit light emission from screens

    – use darker colours on your website or use a ‘night/dark mode’

  • Measure your website carbon level

    – and take note of the recommended changes

  • Use a carbon-neutral web host

    – or even better carbon-negative web host!

  • Add in the carbon tracking widget

    – so your website users are aware of the impact their browsing has

  • Change to a renewable energy provider

    – for your place of work (and home because why not)

  • Why not go the whole hog....

    and have your website redesigned to be specifically Low Carbon!

Want more help to get your business more sustainable? 

If you would like to learn more about how you can sustainably grow your business, in areas such as improved stock management systems and future strategies, you can find me over at

Or if you need help implementing some of the website tips above, contact The Smart Bear for a free consultation




Rachael Shaw

Strategic support for purpose driven entrepreneurs. Providing growth strategy & efficiencies guidance with compassion.

Skip to content