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Dirty websites: The worst URLs for the environment, ranked

The internet uses a lot of energy. These sites use a lot more than most.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer on
Reviewed by Min Shin
MacBook with Earth on fire on screen
Greg Nichols/DALL-E

Poking around online, it's easy to forget that the digital spaces we move through have non-digital consequences. When it comes to the environment, major websites have a surprising footprint.

A research team at Payless Power ranked around 50 popular websites based on environmental impact. How much CO2 does a single site visit represent, anyway? Are any of these websites using servers and infrastructure that run on sustainable energy, and how does that change the equation?

The findings represent an interesting bit of consumer consciousness raising. 

While consumers may not outright avoid, say, a major e-commerce platform because of the footprint of its digital storefront, it's a welcome reminder that small choices consumers make, from the brands they support to things like packaging and delivery times and methods, add up.

Also: How to give carbon removal credits this holiday season

So how did major websites fair? Spoiler alert: Amazon is a pretty dirty site, but at least two major governmental websites devoted to the environment are downright filthy.

Methodology

The clean ranking system used to determine website rank took into account whether or not a site ran on sustainable energy, such as solar and wind, how much CO2 a site produces per visit and per year, and how many trees are needed to absorb a site's CO2 emissions.

Payless Power relied on the Website Carbon Calculator at websitecarbon.com for its calculations. The carbon calculator, which is a project of Wholegrain Digital, a sustainable WordPress agency, underscores just how big a carbon footprint the internet has:

The internet consumes a lot of electricity. 416.2 TWh per year to be precise. To give you some perspective, that's more than the entire United Kingdom.

From data centres to transmission networks to the billions of connected devices that we hold in our hands, it is all consuming electricity, and in turn producing carbon emissions equal to or greater than the global aviation industry. Yikes!

We developed the first methodology for calculating the carbon emissions attributed to a website and this free website carbon calculator is here to help raise awareness and inspire a more sustainable internet.

Results

The top three worst websites for the environment based on Payless Power's test are BlockFi, GameStop, and (in the latest case of brick and mortars stumbling online) Nordstrom.

Crypto in general had a bad showing, with the now-defunct FTX also placing high on the list and Crypto.com placing in the top ten.

More interestingly, NASA, which has a media-rich website, ranked 11 on the list, coming in just before the EPA at 12. The Census Bureau's website wasn't far behind, ranking dirtier than 81% of other tested websites. Amazon was dirtier than 61% of tested sites, but it still beat NOAA, which feels ironic.

The sites that fared the worst had a combination of media rich pages and a lack of renewable energy. 

Also: The 5 best solar gifts for the holidays 

Google, for example, fared very well, producing the least CO2 of all sites tested (5,480 grams per year). That's not surprising given the sparseness of the landing page for Google.com and its use of renewables in its web infrastructure.

For a full list of results check out the report. And for a list of low impact websites that are still beautiful and highly effective, check out the cool list at websitecarbon.com.

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