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Sustainable content

Data has an environmental impact. The accelerating wave of digital content is increasing the energy demands on an already overextended planet. The energy costs for our digital lives can be steep; the world has almost doubled its energy consumption since 1980.

If every byte of data is nothing more than energy, and energy has a carbon cost, then we can directly measure the emissions impact of our websites, emails, podcasts, and video meetings.

I’ve developed formulas to calculate the carbon impact of digital projects. They can be applied proactively to understand the carbon cost of new content, and retroactively to measure the impact of content governance. Keep these numbers in mind when deciding what needs to be communicated, and how.

What is the difference between sustainable content and sustainability communications?

There are two primary concepts at play at the intersection of sustainability and communications:

  • Sustainable content: Measuring and mitigating the greenhouse gas emissions from the creation, storage, and transfer of digital information
  • Sustainability communications: Communicating to key stakeholders about an organization’s sustainability, often in alignment with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or other environmental, social, and governance (ESG) targets

While both are important, sustainable content is an initiative that could be reported as part of an organization’s sustainability communications.

Why is this site so minimalist? Where are all the images?

Imagery — often stock images that are aesthetically pleasing but don’t actually add to the user experience — account for more than half of the weight of the typical web page. By redesigning the site and removing the images, this page was reduced to 344 KB from its previous 4.2 MB. It uses less energy, generates fewer emissions, and loads faster.

Where can I learn more?

Check out the LaPope blog post, Measuring and mitigating the carbon footprint of digital content. (8 April 2024)

Alisa contributed one of the inaugural posts for the Button Blog, Designing Sustainable Content. (25 February 2024)

The newsletter article, Sustainable Content: Mitigating the Carbon Emissions of Digital Communications, gives an introductory overview of the topic. (Published in IABC Catalyst, 29 August 2023)

Download the sustainable content fact sheet to learn the basics about digital content, energy, and carbon emissions.

Alex Howson of Write Medicine profiled Alisa in an article “Clean Up Your Content: Strategies for Sustainable Digital CME/CE” which accompanied the podcast episode, “Digital Declutter: A Guide to Eco-Conscious CME Content Creation” (episode 88).

Journal articles

In addition to my upcoming speaking engagements, you can learn more from my peer-reviewed articles:

Books in development

In 2024, I will also be publishing my first book, Sustainable Content.

Also in 2024, my work will be featured as a chapter in The Palgrave Handbook of Digitalization for Sustainable Development in Society.

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