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Designing for Sustainability by Tim Frick

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Chapter 7. Digital Carbon Footprints

What You Will Learn in This Chapter

Building a more sustainable website is great, but can you actually calculate its emissions? This chapter covers why that’s quite a challenge, with many moving parts.

Estimating a Carbon Footprint

What is the carbon footprint of a website or mobile app? It’s a question I have been trying to find an answer to for several years. My holy grail has always been to find a simple formula that could be applied to a digital product or service to estimate its environmental footprint. Turns out, someone actually owns a patent for that very thing.

More on that in a bit.

The total amount of CO2e produced by your every day activities makes up your carbon footprint
Figure 7-1. The total amount of CO2e produced by your every day activities makes up your carbon footprint

Let’s first take a step back. Everything we do produces some measure of waste: eating, driving, working, even breathing. Much of this waste either creates or consists of greenhouse gases (remember CO2e from Chapter 1?). To decipher the level of impact our activities have on the environment, it becomes important to measure, or at least accurately estimate, the amount of greenhouse gases they produce.

Writing for Carbon Management, authors Laurence A. Wright, Simon Kemp, and Ian Williams define a carbon footprint as:[160]

A measure of the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions of a defined population, system or activity, considering all ...

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