There are two primary concepts at play at the intersection of sustainability and communications:
- Sustainable content: Minimizing the greenhouse gas emissions from the 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 underpins sustainability communications. My mother was right: It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.
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.
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?
My 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.
In addition to my upcoming speaking engagements, you can learn more from my peer-reviewed articles:
- It’s Not Just What You Say, It’s How You Say It: Mitigating the Impacts of Greenhouse Gas Emissions with Effective Content. Technical Communication. 2023.
- First, Do No Harm: Ethical Considerations Surrounding the Environmental Impact of Our Digital Content. AMWA Journal. 2022.
- Measuring the Impacts of Digital Initiatives: Are We Helping or Harming? Proceedings paper, International Conference on Sustainable Development. 2023. Winner, best paper.
Books in development
In 2024, I will also be publishing my first book, Sustainable Content, through A Book Apart.
My work will also be featured in The Palgrave Handbook of Digitalization for Sustainable Development in Society, expected to be released in 2024.