Excessive electricity production leads to air, water and soil pollution. A better UX can help, writes Dawid Stankiewicz of Comarch.
Image source: Photo by Akil Mazumder of Pexels
The numbers behind our daily online activities are huge. Few Internet users realize this, but in fact, every time they post a tweet or visit their bank’s website, a power-consuming process is triggered in the background. Your banking app might be able to open in the blink of an eye, but this action consumes a certain amount of energy, which generates a carbon footprint.
So… what is the damage?
Excessive electricity production leads to air, water and soil pollution. The resulting greenhouse gas emissions (the carbon footprint) damage the environment and lead to climate change. It might be hard to believe apps have anything to do with it, but the numbers speak for themselves.
Here’s the bottom line: Today, more than 5.1 billion Internet users browse nearly 2 billion websites worldwide. We use Google search more than 97,000 times, post nearly 10,000 tweets, and send approximately 3.1 million emails… each second. According to Internet Live Stats, within one second there are also more than 1,000 photos posted on Instagram and nearly 93,000 videos viewed on YouTube.
Combining the online activities of all users, this represents a considerable amount of data processed. Experts estimate that in 2022, the volume of data/information created, captured, copied and consumed worldwide will reach 97 zettabytes. And that is expected to nearly double by 2025.
Head in the clouds
When we say our services run “in the cloud”, we don’t mean it literally, of course. These large volumes of data require a physical storage location. The zettabytes mentioned above are stored in data centers located around the world. These repositories mainly consist of servers, routers, switches, firewalls, storage systems, and application delivery controllers.
The operation of these devices and systems consumes a significant amount of electricity.
In 2022, data centers could find themselves need nearly 1,000 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy. If we add to this the energy that powers our PCs, our smartphones and the production of ICT and Internet networks, we will obtain a result of 3,000 TWh. That’s enough to supply entire countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran for almost a year.
A chance to turn the tide
While these numbers seem overwhelming and alarming, it’s not too late to make data processing greener. Certain technological advances are capable of reducing the harmful effects mentioned above. Many data centers already use renewable energy to power their operations, at least partially. They have solar panels installed on roofs and systems dedicated to controlling lighting in buildings.
Additionally, there are environmentally friendly methods to maintain the right temperature in entire buildings and infrastructure, such as deep lake water cooling or airflow management systems. Some buildings housing data centers have rooftop gardens filled with plants that can capture and reuse rainwater.
These are some of the ways to engage machines in the going green campaign, but where do people come in?
It’s all in the design
Significant changes can be made by the human link in the IT business chain: user experience and interface designers. They must consider the impact of their work on the environment. One of the first steps to take is well-conducted and properly analyzed user research. Thanks to that, products for financial institutions will be fully in line with the needs of customers and users.
Why is this so important? Because designers and business analysts can streamline the entire user journey. For example, a banking system can reduce the number of pages to browse to complete a transaction. Overall, any process consumes electricity in data centers, transmission networks and user devices. Opening a website can generate on average about 1.76 grams of CO2 . With 10,000 visits per month, this translates to 211 kg of CO2 per year, which takes 5-10 trees to absorb. This example requires around 430 kWh of energy per year – enough to power an electric car and travel a distance of 2.7 thousand kilometres!
More optimization, less noise
So what should UX and UI designers do to reduce their carbon footprint? Contrary to appearances, there is a wide range of actions they can take. As stated earlier, properly planned and performed research is crucial because, based on it, designers create accurate UX personas – the representative models of potential user groups. Each person involved in building the solution knows who it will be dedicated to, which allows the whole team to design a product adapted to real needs.
UX experts are able to compress and simplify processes, reduce information overload, and design intuitive navigation. UI designers, on the other hand, can use fewer fonts, images, and videos to speed up loading. A tool optimized in this way will meet the real demands of all end users, whether they are customers or employees of a financial institution. Their operations will require fewer steps, which not only means less stress and wasted time, but also less electricity needed. The carbon footprint will decrease.
As more and more online activities require more and more energy, the meaning of being eco-conscious needs to be reconsidered. Most people are still unaware of the excessive data consumption and the carbon footprint left behind. But we can take steps to make our businesses and our lives greener – and the first is good design.
The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of AltFi.