Authors:
Martina Đođo, Martina Nemčić, Vedran Židanik

Themes:
Digital sustainability research, web performance, IT pollution, CO2 emissions

We conducted a study on the quality, efficiency, and environmental impact of the 20 most visited Croatian websites. Our mission was raising the awareness about the pressing issue of digital pollution. We’re aiming to better understand the significant impact of inefficient websites on people, as well as on the reputation and business of companies.

Creek & Pine agency - Research - Digital sustainability of the most visited Croatian websites

What is digital sustainability and how does the Internet pollute?

Digital sustainability involves the responsible and environmentally conscious use of digital technologies to reduce their negative impact on the environment. It encompasses various practices aimed at reducing energy consumption, minimizing electronic waste, and decreasing the carbon footprint of digital activities such as data storage, internet usage, and software development.

Given that the internet ranks as the fourth largest polluter in the world in terms of energy consumption and CO2 emissions, as an industry, we must take responsibility for the quality and efficiency of the digital products we produce, as well as their impact on the environment, reputation, and business of the companies for which we develop them.

With over 5.3 billion internet users worldwide, more than a billion websites, and even 250,000 new websites every day, it is estimated that by 2025, the global IT industry will use up to 20% of all produced energy and emit 5.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Creek and Pine research: If the internet was a country, it would emit CO2 at the level of some of the world's largest economies, such as Germany or the UK, as well as the entire countries of Australia and Africa.
Creek and Pine research: If the internet was a country, it would emit CO2 at the level of some of the world’s largest economies, such as Germany or the UK, as well as the entire countries of Australia and Africa.

Research goals

To gain insight and understanding of the scale of pollution, we initiated two studies on digital sustainability or digital pollution.

We intend to utilize the obtained results and figures to enhance our understanding of the following topics:

  • Website health and environmental impact: We aim to better understand the health of websites produced in Croatia and identify design and development practices that make them more or less efficient.
  • Correlation between software investment and results: Is there a correlation between a company’s profit and the quality of its website development? Large companies invest significant resources in developing their software, but the outcome may not always align with the investment.
  • Support for Corporate reporting on sustainability according to ESRS Standards: With the collected data, we aim to continue supporting companies and our clients who, as of January 1st 2023, are required to report according to ESRS standards. We want to assist them in defining and analyzing this aspect of environmental impact, finding ways to reduce it, and reporting on the positive outcomes of optimization efforts.
Interner energy consumption and pollution points

Results: CO2 emissions of the 20 most visited Croatian websites

We analyzed 20 most visited Croatian websites: index.hr, jutarnji.hr, 24sata.hr, njuskalo.hr, slobodnadalmacija.hr, vecernji.hr, dnevnik.hr, net.hr, forum.hr, tportal.hr, dnevno.hr, telegram.hr, skole.hr, meteo.hr, gov.hr, novilist.hr, n1info.hr, mojtv.hr, katalozi.net i dalmatinskiportal.hr.

  • Dominant energy rating: F (65 %)
  • Total annual CO2 emissions: 4 681 metric tons
  • Average CO2 emissions per website visit: 1.29 g
  • Average performance: mobile 39/100, desktop 63/100
  • Highest CO2 emissions: jutarnji.hr (emits approximately 928 metric tons of CO2 per year)

A staggering 90% of the analyzed websites are unsustainable (grades D – F), and 65 % of the tested websites belong to energy class F.

Creek and Pine research: Most visited Croatian websites ranked by energy classes
Creek and Pine research: Most visited Croatian websites ranked by energy classes

The total mass of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere by all 20 analyzed websites during one year amounts to over 4.6 million kilograms of CO2 (4,600 tons of CO2). The average CO2 emission per website is 1.29 grams per visit.

Regarding servers, the numbers are somewhat better compared to the websites of the largest Croatian companies. The majority of the 20 most visited Croatian websites we tested (60%) are hosted on “dirty” servers, powered by fossil fuels, while 40% of the websites are hosted on “green” servers.

Creek and Pine research: Green servers are the ones powered by renewable energy, while dirty servers are non-renewable energy powered
Creek and Pine research: Green servers are the ones powered by renewable energy, while dirty servers are non-renewable energy powered

The largest CO2 emissions

🔴 Five websites (from the 20 most visited) with highest yearly emissions

  • jutarnji.hr – 928 metric tons
  • index.hr – 826 metric tons
  • tportal.hr – 526 metric tons
  • vecernji.hr – 336 metric tons
  • 24sata.hr – 330 metric tons

The lowest CO2 emissions

🟢 Five websites (from the 20 most visited) with lowest yearly emissions

  • forum.hr – 23 metric tons*
  • mojtv.hr – 33 metric tons
  • meteo.hr – 38 metric tons
  • katalozi.net – 40 metric tons
  • njuskalo.hr – 65 metric tons

* Among the most visited sites, forum.hr stands out as the cleanest site in energy class A, hosted on a green server. However, we consider this case to be specific because it is a very old website that mainly consists of textual content, without more advanced video content, animations, and styles, and it uses almost no modern technologies. Sustainable websites do not have to be devoid of interactive and rich content – quite the opposite.

💡 Interesting insights

  • A single full Boeing 777 flight from New York, USA, to Sydney, Australia, produces about 9 tons of CO2. This means it would need to make as many as 500 such flights annually to match the emissions of the twenty most visited Croatian websites.
  • If optimized, these websites could produce at least 70%, or 3 million kilograms less CO2. However, if visits to these sites continue to grow at current global trends (a 50% annual increase), by 2030 they could produce over 50 million kilograms of CO2 (50,000 tons).
Creek and Pine research: average sustainable website vs average regular website

What are our key takeaways?

Website health and its environmental and business impact 

  • The analyzed websites are largely energy inefficient and have a significant environmental impact
  • Low energy efficiency is indicative of poor practices related to design and development. Websites that receive low ratings on the digital sustainability scale are actually under-optimized, oversized, and slow. This is most evident in the Performance metric on Google’s developer tool, PageSpeed Insights, where the average performance of tested websites falls far below the recommended 90/100. The average mobile performance score is 39/100, and desktop is 63/100
  • Websites and applications that are more efficient are also more responsive, consume less energy, and provide a better user experience

Correlation between software investment and results

  • The majority of websites, regardless of the size and strength of the company or organization that owns them, are not optimized for energy efficiency and sustainability
  • Given their poor performance (39/100 and 63/100), websites provide inadequate user experience and are ranked lower on search engines for their keywords. The low ranking of a website on search engines directly affects business results (Google considers Performance score when determining the relevance and ranking of a website)
Benefits of having sustainable software

Big opportunities to mitigate the emissions and report following the ESRS standards

  • Listed companies have ample room for improvement and for communicating their efforts to reduce their environmental impact through enhancing the energy efficiency of their websites
  • Reporting on the achievement of energy efficiency in digital products according to standards is not mandatory, but it is welcomed. It’s a simple and effective way to kickstart a company’s activities towards climate neutrality

Carbon offset is not a way towards digital sustainability

Instead of optimizing digital products and integrating sustainability awareness into the design and development process, a large number of companies worldwide, including those primarily engaged in designing and developing digital products, promote and choose carbon offsetting. This means they purchase carbon offsets, paying companies and organizations to neutralize their CO2 emissions, for example, by planting trees or investing in renewable energy sources. While planting trees is always beneficial, companies that are major polluters often find it challenging to plant enough trees to neutralize their pollution.

Carbon offsetting will not improve website performance, SEO, user experience, or Google ranking. This means that unoptimized websites will continue to directly impact a company’s business results negatively.

Creek and Pine research: Results of designing and developing sustainable software
Creek and Pine research: Results of designing and developing sustainable software

💡 Interesting insights 

  • If companies that own of all the tested websites decided to offset their current annual digital emissions, they would need to plant over 212 000 trees today
  • These trees would start absorbing their emissions only in 10 to 30 years, depending on the species. An adult tree can absorb about 22 kg of CO2 per year. Fast-growing trees like poplar or birch need at least 10 years to grow enough to absorb 22 kg of CO2, while slow-growing trees like oak or maple require between 30 and 50 years

Details and methodology

The methodology of the research and sources of information are outlined below.

  • The source of the list of the largest Croatian companies is FINA (Croatian Finance Agency). For each company on the list, it was checked whether they have one or more websites, and all known websites owned by the company in the top 150 were analyzed, totaling 260 websites
  • Data on CO2 emissions per website visit were calculated using Website Carbon, which calculates the energy required to transmit website data from the server to the end-user. Information on whether the server uses energy from renewable or non-renewable sources was obtained from The Green Web Foundation database
  • The number of average monthly and annual visits was obtained from the SimilarWeb platform
  • The amount of energy required to transmit data and calculate the website’s footprint is determined by the size of the website, loading time, and energy consumption of end-user devices, as well as the energy consumption of the data center hosting the server where the website is hosted
  • Taking into account all the calculations, each website is assigned a grade on a scale from A+ to F. Grade A+ denotes a green website with a small footprint, and grade F denotes a website that significantly pollutes
Creek and Pine research: Website Carbon scale of digital sustainability with the global average marked
Creek and Pine research: Website Carbon scale of digital sustainability with the global average marked

More about Creek and Pine

We launched Creek and Pine to design and build software that is better for people, companies, and the planet.

Through our work, we aim to educate our clients and other companies about this aspect of their environmental impact. We want to empower them to demand greater responsibility from us, as well as from their own designers and developers, in designing for longevity and sustainability.

Creek and Pine team
Creek and Pine team: Martina Nemčić, Martina Đođo, Marko Dobrinić, Vedran Židanik

Want us to design and build a high performing and more sustainable website for your business? Let’s talk.

Reach out at hi@creekandpine.co or using the form on our Contact page.

The research was conducted in March 2024. The transmission of information and visuals is possible with the consent of Creek & Pine company, with proper attribution, and without any design or content alterations.

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