Volkswagen : Carbon-saving digital communications
An early example of an educational sustainable browsing experience
Volkswagen Canada has launched a carbon-efficient website (vw.ca/carbonneutralnet) to promote its electric vehicle range. The website has only six pages, including an FAQ section and a series of innovation pages on e-mobility and the future of electric vehicles. Basic product information is provided, but interested customers must leave the “sustainable browsing experience” and “return to the full VW.ca experience” to book a test drive or compare models.
The “sustainable browsing experience” is in sleek greyscale with blue accents, and all pages are reduced to black and white text, even the images, as seen in the screenshot. The level of detail achieved is almost on a par with traditional photography, but the amount of data embedded in the images is significantly lower.
The aim of the site is to “educate Canadians about sustainability in the digital world” and introductory paragraphs in HTML explain how reducing electric vehicle web pages to black and white text requires less energy to transfer data over the internet, “effectively lowering the carbon footprint of these pages”.
There are plenty of prominent signposts back to the ‘full’ VW website.
Volkswagen offers one of the first examples we have seen of a website that informs visitors about the carbon emissions associated with corporate digital communications. It immediately engages with an eye-catching fact: “a site that gets just 100,000 monthly page views generates a whopping 2,110 kg of CO2 per year—the same amount produced by 87 barbecue tanks”.
Indeed, corporate websites are far from carbon neutral. The world’s data centres use more electricity per year than the entire United Kingdom, and if the internet were a country, it would be the sixth most polluting country in the world, according to Nature.
‘Digital carbon footprint reduction’ is a phrase we are hearing more and more, alongside ‘sustainable web design’ and ‘carbon neutral websites’, but awareness is currently low, and very few corporate website managers have taken action.
Volkswagen’s effort is primarily educational, but it doubles as marketing material for its electric vehicles. This is an example of a pragmatic approach, where sustainable web design goes hand in hand with company messaging.
However, as the environmental impact of the internet becomes more widely publicised and more companies claim to be sustainable with net zero pledges, we expect that there will be a corresponding awareness that “net zero” should include the impact of a company’s online estate, and we predict more experiments like this one.