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Cost of Invisible Digital CO2 Emissions

Even in today's digital age, the environmental impact of our online activities often goes unnoticed, hidden behind the clean facade of the virtual world. However, the reality is that the digital space is far from sustainable, consuming massive amounts of energy and resources that contribute significantly to global CO2 emissions, water usage, and more. 

Enter Karma Metrix, a forward-thinking company that's stepping up to offer real solutions to this pressing issue. 

We talk with Fabio Mecarone, Marketing & Sustainability Manager at Karma Metrix, to learn how companies can actively reduce their digital footprint and pave the way for a more sustainable future. 

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👤 Interview with Fabio

Dunja Jovanovic: Could you share a bit more about yourself and what Karma Metrix is all about?

Fabio Mecarone: My academic background is in economy management. After graduating, I ventured into marketing analysis, eventually leading to the digital sector. There, I joined the initial team behind what would become Karma Metrix. Initially, we were focused on SEO services, but a serendipitous inquiry from one of our clients about the environmental impact of our SEO practices prompted a significant shift in our direction. We hadn't previously considered the environmental impact, and this question led us to research and discover that digital activities indeed have a tangible ecological footprint. This discovery was pivotal, and it led to the foundation of Karma Metrix, which is dedicated to enhancing digital sustainability. We've developed an innovative algorithm that measures the CO2 emissions generated by websites, aiming to help companies understand and mitigate their digital environmental impact.

DJ: How do digital activities impact the environment and why it's important?

FM: The digital environment is often misleadingly perceived as 'clean' because it's not directly emitting smoke or pollutants like traditional industries. However, the infrastructure that powers the digital world—data centers, servers, and the networks that connect them—consumes a significant amount of energy. If the digital world were classified as a country, it would rank as the fourth largest in terms of CO2 emissions and third for energy consumption. Most of this energy still comes from non-renewable sources like fossil fuels, which are responsible for a large portion of global CO2 emissions. Our work at Karma Metrix aims to shed light on this issue and provide solutions that help reduce the digital carbon footprint.

DJ: What specific technologies and methodologies does Karma Metrix employ to assess and improve the eco-friendliness of digital products?

FM: Our primary tool is an algorithm we developed to estimate the carbon footprint of websites. It analyzes various factors, such as the server types, the energy sources, and the efficiency of the website’s design and operational code. For instance, we've found that websites with darker color schemes consume less energy on user devices than those with bright, white backgrounds. We also evaluate the efficiency of the website's backend processes, like CSS and JavaScript implementations, and the size and format of images, which can significantly affect the site’s energy consumption. We provide detailed reports and recommendations to help companies optimize their websites for lower carbon emissions.


DJ: How do companies generally respond to the concept of digital sustainability? Are they proactive in seeking solutions?

FM: It varies. While there is growing awareness about environmental sustainability, digital sustainability is still a relatively new concept for many. We often find ourselves in the role of educators, introducing companies to the idea that their digital operations can significantly impact the environment. Once companies understand the scope of their digital footprint, they are usually very interested in finding ways to reduce it. We’ve seen a positive shift towards more sustainable practices once the impacts are clearly understood and actionable strategies are provided.

DJ: What has been the most surprising or challenging aspect of your work at Karma Metrix?

FM: One of the most surprising findings was the significant impact of AI and big data on water consumption. It's well-known that AI requires substantial computational power, but the associated water use for cooling these massive data centers was startling. For example, the water footprint for training some advanced AI models can rival that of small cities or even nuclear reactors. This highlights a less-discussed aspect of digital sustainability: the vast amounts of resources required beyond just energy.

DJ: If you could change one thing about global sustainability practices with a magical wand, what would it be?

FM: I would immediately transition all energy production to renewable sources. This would drastically reduce global emissions and slow the pace of climate change. Although this wouldn’t solve all environmental issues, such as those related to resource consumption and waste management, it would address one of the largest contributors to global warming and environmental degradation.

📝 Full episode transcript

Hello, friends, and welcome to another episode of the Green New Perspective Podcast, your go-to place when you want to learn about innovations happening within clean tech, nature tech, biotech, and agri-tech space. In today's episodes, we are wondering how sustainable are our digital lives and businesses. My guest today is Fabio Mecarone, Marketing Director of Karma Metrix, a company that measures, calculates, and improves the environmental sustainability of your websites.
Stay tuned and find out how much water we use by making just one prompt in ChatGPD.
Hi, Fabio, and welcome to the Green New Perspective Podcast.
Hi, Dunja, and thank you for having invited me.
So can you tell me and our audience a bit more about yourself and Karma Metrix, what you're doing?
I have been graduated in economy management. Then I started the path of working with analysis, marketing analysis, more of that. And then I came to the first company of the inventor of Karma Metrix, which is a SEO company.
So I was working on SEO. And then we stumbled with the sustainability for chance, I would say, because one of our customers asked us if what we do on the SEO path, on the optimization path, may have some kind of environmental impact. We didn't know it, so we had to make some researches.
And we found out that the internet has an environmental impact. And that's why our founder decided to create Karma Metrix, which works in the field of the digital sustainability. And we have an algorithm that can measure the CO2 emissions caused by a website.
So mainly that's what we do. We say a journey of digital sustainability that helps the companies to measure and improve their digital impact.
And can you tell me more about the impact of all this digital space on the environment?
Yes, usually people don't think about it, because you don't see the smoke coming out from a PC unless it is on fire.
Yeah, sorry for interrupting, Iubov. When we're talking about sustainability, people are usually recommending to go paperless and to go full digital, not actually thinking about the impact of digital space and sustainability.
Yes, of course. Surely the digital part is better than the offline part. Okay, so having a PDF, of course, is better than having a printed paper.
But if we consider the whole digital impact, if it would be a country, it would be the fourth country in the world for CO2 emissions and third country in the world for energy consumptions. Why is that? Because most of the energy produced in the world still comes from the fossil fuels.
The 60% of the energy worldwide produced still comes from fossil fuels. And of course, when we consume energy, we have a carbon footprint too. And so that's very big.
It is almost the double of the aircraft pollution. Okay, so that's a very big impact. I made a research last year on the five big techs, the American big techs, which are Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Meta.
Only those five companies pull together, they have the same emissions as, for example, a country like Belgium. Okay, so five companies are like our country. And there still wasn't all the impact that came from the development of the AI.
So that's a huge impact and it will, of course, always grow.
What technologies and methodologies do you employ to access and improve the eco-friendliness of digital products?
At the moment, we only are focused on the website part because we are young. So we started with one thing, the websites, but we are developing how to measure and reduce the impact of the emails and of the smartphone app. So at the moment, we have an algorithm.
This algorithm makes an estimation of the carbon footprint of a website. And then we had the companies with a consultancy path to understand what on the website causes more emissions and how they can improve it. I'll make an example, choosing the colors of a website may have an impact on the carbon footprint because brighter colors like the white are more impacting, for example, than the black one.
So if you make a black screen, a black website, it may pollute six times less than a white website. And then there is all the questions about the CSS files, the JavaScript files. OK, so it becomes very technical, the heavy of the images.
So there are more than 20, 30 parameters we consider in our analysis, and we help the companies to make their website much more eco-friendly. We are average on a 30% reduction of emissions with our path, but we had clients that went up to 90% of the reduction.
And how do you measure those impacts?
We have an algorithm that is a patented one, and it takes consideration of all these parameters. It calculates how much energy consumption they are causing. And then by considering the mixed energy, how the energy is produced, we make the estimation of the carbon footprint of the website.
And how do you feel the companies should do and think beyond just the website to address the sustainability holistically, let's say?
They are doing a lot of requests about it. That's why we are not only thinking about the website, but we are expanding and going to measure many other things. They are starting to ask us, for example, not only, as I already said, the emails or the web apps or the apps, they are starting to ask us if they can measure the hardware in the company or what they are using inside the company on a digital aspect.
We will think about it. We need time to develop, to make the studies, but our vision is to make the world digital more sustainable. And so we are trying to add this at time.
What are the biggest misconceptions about web sustainability or digital sustainability you encountered during this journey of yours?
That people think usually that it is an endless resource. It's because of it is proposed to us. If you think about having the internet connection with unlimited traffic, having those storage with a lot of gigabytes, terabytes of space for just a few euros.
So people think that it's endless. It's almost endless. They don't think about the fact that the more they use it, the more the impact of it is.
An example I usually like to make is with photography. A digital photo has a less impact than a printed photo. But it's the same if we make 100,000 photos, because with the classic photography, you make one, ten photos when you're on vacation.
Now with the smartphone, you make thousands of photos. And only the storage of a thousand photos is almost 50 kilos of CO2 emissions. Okay, so we have to learn to use the digital in a more accurate way.
Do you feel that companies or people, you mentioned photography here, which is something that we all do, are educated enough about digital sustainability?
They are not. That's why we are working a lot on awareness too. So we go, for example, in the universities to make some lessons about it.
We make it in the companies, internal lessons, internal education, so they can use the internet, the digital part better when they work and in their private lives too. For example, cleaning the photos on the files from the smartphone. Don't make three, four, five backups of the data because it's not necessary unless you're a bank, a bit more important.
So using the dark mode, that helps a lot in... You can see it concretely when you see how long the battery lasts. So I make another example.
When we make all those work meetings, all with the camera on, you don't need the camera on for all the people. Maybe it's only for the ones that are talking because that consumes a lot of energy. I invite you and everyone to make a test and try to see from the laptop the estimated time left of the battery when you are in a meeting and when you are not.
When you are in a meeting, the estimated left time of the battery may be cut off in half.
And with the camera off?
With the camera off, it goes a bit higher.
Do clients approach to you who are interested to lower their carbon emissions or do you go to them? Usually companies are very focused on lowering their carbon emissions in some different sections, not in the digital space.
Yes, of course. Usually we have to find them, we have to push them. Because if you want to improve something, the first thing you have to do is to know it.

Okay, so as long as the people and the companies don't know that the internet causes emissions, they can't think about making something about it. So that's why we have to do a lot of awareness. We have to go searching for them.
But what I see is that whenever we contact them and we explain what we are doing, there is a lot of curiosity. So everyone is saying, really?

And what was the biggest surprise for you working in Karma Metrix on the side of your offerings?
The biggest surprise were mainly two, I will say. One is when we made a project, The Journey, with one of the biggest Italian websites, which is Gadello Sport, it is a newspaper talking about sport, they did it with us and when they have their emissions, they lowered the emissions by 3000 tons of CO2. I would imagine a single website may have such an higher impact.

That was really impressive. And I am wondering if a website that has worldwide knowledge, which is known worldwide, with a lot more traffic than a national website, how big can its impact be? So that's very, very interesting.

And the other thing was when I made the research about how big is the impact of the artificial intelligence. And, for example, about CHAT GPT, when I was searching about it, I found a study that said that the water footprint of training an AI like CHAT GPT consumes as much water as a nuclear reactor. So that's another part we are trying to introduce, not only calculating the CO2 impact of a website, but the carbon footprint too, because all the servers, all the data centers, they need to be cooled with water at the moment.
And so they have a really big impact on that aspect too.

Yeah, I suppose the people are not thinking about water consumption when they're doing their research via CHAT GPT or some other AI platform.
It's that a single question made to CHAT GPT may consume up to half a litre of water.
Well, I didn't know that. That's so interesting. And where do you see the biggest challenges in introducing website sustainability?
The biggest challenge is not only to make people aware of it, but to make them understand how big can be the impact of the website. So we can talk of thousands of tons of impact. We said before, it is the third country in the world by CO2 emissions.
Imagine if a country like India or Russia cuts their emissions by 30%. It is a huge impact on the world environment. So if everyone is aware of it and makes his part on the digital side, it can have a really important impact on the environmental system.

And what else is needed for digital website sustainability to reach a tipping point? Let's say regulation, education, we mentioned already education. Something else maybe, aside from that?
Sure, education, but I think that a big part must come from the regulation, of course. I always think that the two parts, they need to go together. I make an example about the big trend of the diet.
People are making attention about calories of the products they buy and so on. Why do they make attention to the calories? Because it's easy to know the calories of a product.

You have in almost every country the obligation to put the calories on the packaging. So imagine if you have the obligation to make the carbon impact of the product on every package and the same on the website and so on. If people have the information with an easy accessibility, they start to look at them to make confrontations.

They start to make choices about the information that they have. The more we make it needed to give information to the people, the more they can choose in a good way.

And what advice would you give to companies who are just starting to think about digital sustainability? Where should they begin?
The first thing we always suggest is to start with the moderation. So, be aware of the impact of your website. Because sometimes we found websites that were already sustainable.
So they didn't need to do something about it. They worked on other aspects of the website, and by chance they had a sustainable website. So that's the first part of all.
Start with knowing the impact of your website. And then we can discuss about having the whole journey in improving the impact of the website. We have the free demo of our algorithm on the website.

So everyone can go there and, for example, test the homepage and have an idea of the average emissions of the website. Then, of course, it is not complete because we have to gather some information which server the companies have, for example, and so on. But it's a good start to understand more or less the impact of the website.
And do you have some offerings for companies that are working full remotely, like ours, for example? We do have a website, but all of our business is on cloud.

Yes, because even if the website is, for example, on a green cloud, the cloud isn't the part that impacts the most. The cloud may be around 5% and 15% of the emissions correlated to a website. But the biggest part is from the end-user device.

So making your website more sustainable helps to make the end-user more sustainable too. So it is important not only to think, okay, I have a data center, I have a cloud hosted on a green cloud, which only uses renewable energy. It is not enough because as I said before, 60% of the energy still comes from fossil fuels.

So a website needs anyway, in my opinion, to be assessed and improved in case they need it.
The last question for you is if you had, let's say, a magic wand to change something about sustainability, not just digital sustainability, but overall, what would it be and why?
You think one thing that can change?
Yeah, whatever you wish to change, like in a day, if you had a magic wand.

That's a good question. Getting rid of the fossil fuels may be the most important thing. All going totally on renewable energies because it will solve a lot of problems.

Not every problem because as I said, even if you have no emissions, there are a lot of other problems. The soil, the water consumption and so on. But at least we solve one big problem.
Thank you, Fabio. And I wish you all the best in your business to improve the digital sustainability of websites and to raise awareness about the issue, which is also a very important thing that you're doing. Thank you very much.
And tell me and our audiences where people can find you, where they can write to you and get informed more about what you're doing, get in touch with you.

So they can contact us from our website, which is, or they can write directly to me on LinkedIn.

Thank you. Thank you once again.

Well, this marks the end of another episode of the Green New Perspective Podcast. If you're curious about innovative tech aimed at combating climate change, consider subscribing to our podcast on your favorite streaming platform. We are available everywhere from Spotify to YouTube, and we are hosting CEOs, product management, chief technology officers, marketing managers, sustainability managers from all over the world who are working in clean tech, nature tech, biotech, and agri-tech space.

This episode is proudly sponsored by New Perspective, a Boston-based marketing agency working with clean tech clients only. And if you're curious about how the agency can help your clean tech business to grow, click in the link in the description of this episode and find out how sustainable and ethical marketing can actually change the world. I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I did, and hopefully I see you in the next one.


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Host & Co-Producer: Dunja Jovanovic 
Executive Producer: Marko Bodiroza
Creator: Nathan Harris
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