Earth Day: Taking a closer look at digital waste

22 Apr 2021 09:00 | Faculty of Digital Media and Creative Industries

This Earth Day, students at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences programme Master Digital Design are raising the alarm about an often overlooked source of pollution: digital waste. Work by MDD students Julia van Hulst and Aljoscha Gleser's zooms in on a high-tech website dedicated to sustainability activist Greta Thunberg and the eco-performance of websites belonging to Dutch political parties.

How an homage to Greta turned into a digital nightmare

The award-winning website about Greta Thunberg is a digital waste nightmare. Digital services might be the new soil, but digital waste is the new oil. Ignoring the digital world’s increasing energy consumption and CO2 emission may be expected from benefitting multinationals, but even within climate activism, it doesn’t seem to be a common agenda point. Why is that, and does it matter?

The Year of Greta is a website created as a passion project by the Amsterdam-based agency Superhero Cheesecake. It illustrates how over the year 2019, Greta Thunberg became the face of Climate Activism. The project won Awwwards’ Site of the Month in February last year. Rightfully so: its storytelling approach is unique and beautifully crafted, making use of advanced and experimental web design techniques. Also, all the right elements are there. It’s a website meant for the good, to bring awareness to an urgent matter, and pay homage to a young brave activist.

However, there is also a different and darker side to this story… This website is polluting – the very thing Greta is fighting against.

Illustration by Julia van Hulst

Websites of Dutch political parties score low on sustainability

Almost all of the websites of the Dutch political parties with a seat in parliament are not that environmentally-friendly: they take too long to load and cost a lot of energy. Even those parties with strong policies against climate change score poorly. That’s the result of a research by our students Julia van Hulst and Aljoscha Gleser who want to bring more attention to digital pollution – especially on Earth Day.

Julia and Aljoscha used the tool Ecograder to define how these websites scored. The components measured were Performance, Findability, Design / User Experience and Hosting.

Only two political parties (PvdD-Party for the Animals and PvdA-Labour Party) can be considered sustainable enough. One of the components students looked into was loading speed: the slower it is for a website to load, the more energy it consumes. And if website visitors leave the website before it even fully loaded that is just a pure waste of energy – and bad news for the environment.

Click through on the link below for a full overview of the research results.