By Dawid Stankiewicz on Thursday 20 January 2022
Excessive electricity generation leads to air, water, and land pollution. Better UX can help, writes Comarch's Dawid Stankiewicz.
The numbers behind our day-to-day online activities are massive. Not many internet users actually realize it, but in fact, every time they post a tweet or visit their bank’s website, an energy-intensive process starts in the background. Your banking application may be able to open in a blink of an eye, but this action consumes a certain amount of energy, which generates a carbon footprint.
So… what’s the damage?
Excessive electricity generation leads to air, water, and land pollution. The resulting greenhouse gas emissions (the carbon footprint) damage the environment and lead to climate change. It might be hard to believe that apps have anything to do with this, but the numbers speak for themselves.
Here’s the bottom line: nowadays, there are more than 5.1 billion internet users browsing almost 2 billion websites all over the world. We use Google Search over 97 thousand times, post nearly 10 thousand tweets, and send around 3.1 million emails… every single second. According to Internet Live Stats, within one second there are also more than 1 thousand photos posted on Instagram and almost 93 thousand videos viewed on YouTube.
Combining the online activities of all users together, this adds up to a magnitude of processed data. Experts estimate that in 2022, the volume of data/information created, captured, copied, and consumed worldwide will reach 97 zettabytes. And this should almost double by 2025.
Head in the clouds
When we say that our services are working “in the cloud”, we don’t mean it literally, of course. Such big volumes of data require a physical storing place. The above mentioned zettabytes are kept in data centres located around the globe. These repositories consist mainly of servers, routers, switches, firewalls, storage systems and application delivery controllers.
Running these devices and systems absorbs a significant amount of electricity.
In 2022, data centres may find themselves in need of nearly 1 thousand terawatt-hours (TWh) of energy. If we add to this the energy that powers our PCs, smartphones, and the production of ICT and internet networks, we will get a result of 3 thousand TWh. This is enough to supply entire countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran for almost a year.
A chance to turn it around
Although these numbers look overwhelming and alarming, it is not too late to make data processing greener. Some technological advancements are able to reduce the harmful effects mentioned above. Many data centres already use renewable energy to power their operations, at least partially. They have solar panels installed on the rooftops and systems dedicated to lighting control in buildings.
Additionally, there are eco-conscious methods of maintaining the right temperature in entire buildings and infrastructure, such as deep lake water cooling or air-flow management systems. Some buildings hosting data centres have rooftop gardens full of plants that are able to capture and reuse rainwater.
These are some of the ways to engage the machines in the go-green campaign, but where do people step 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 should take into consideration how their work impacts 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 customer and user needs.
Why is this so important? Because designers and business analysts can streamline the entire user journey. For example, a banking system may reduce the number of pages to click through in order to complete an operation. The big picture is, any process consumes electricity in data centers, transmission networks, and user devices. Opening one website can generate on average around 1.76 grams of CO2 . With 10 thousand visits per month, this results in 211kg of CO2 annually, which takes 5 to 10 trees to absorb. This example requires around 430 kWh of energy yearly – enough to power an electric car and drive a distance of 2.7 thousand kilometres!
More optimisation, less noise
So, what should UX and UI designers do to reduce their carbon footprint? Contrary to appearances, there is a wide spectrum of actions they can take. As previously stated, properly planned and performed research is crucial because, on its basis, designers create accurate UX personas – the representative models of potential user groups. Everyone involved in building the solution knows whom it will be dedicated for, which in turn allows the entire team to design a product tailored to the 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 make loading faster. A tool optimized this way will respond to the actual demands of all end users, whether it be customers or employees of a financial institution. Their operations will require fewer steps, which means not only less stress and time wasted, but also not nearly as much electricity needed. The carbon footprint will shrink.
As more and more activities go online requiring increasing amounts of energy, the meaning of being eco-conscious needs to be reconsidered. Most people are still unaware of excessive data consumption and the carbon footprint left behind. But, we can take steps towards making our businesses and lives greener – and the first one is good design.
The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of AltFi.