How SEOs and Agencies can become more Climate Positive
Published 01 October 2021
We’re currently in a global climate crisis. And at Sitebulb we believe that the SEO industry, just like any other, has a responsibility to do something about it. But as an SEO or agency, what does that actually mean in practical terms?
We’ve already undertaken a range of measures to start on our journey towards more environmentally sustainable SEO and a greener future. This post isn’t going to focus on what we’re doing, but if you’d like to read about that, have a look at our Climate Positive SEO Auditing page.
We’ve had a great response from the SEO industry so far. In addition to appreciation for what we’re doing, several people have got in touch to ask for advice on how they can do more.
This post aims to pass on some of the things we learnt along the way, and give some ideas and guidance for what you can do as an SEO or agency to have a more positive environmental impact.
If you’d like to skip the fluff and dive straight into what you can do right now, jump to the quick start guide section here.
Table of contents:
- Offsetting carbon vs planting trees
- Carbon neutral vs climate positive
- Reduce your carbon footprint
- Be more efficient with your SEO auditing
- Work with the experts
- Offset your own team
- Offset your clients or customers
- Quick start guide
- What others in SEO are already doing
- Final thoughts
Offsetting carbon vs planting trees
This is probably the most important concept we needed to get our head around when we started looking at what we could do. It also seems to be one of the most common misconceptions around carbon offsetting.
Essentially, you need to recognise the difference between what will have an impact now, vs planning for the future.
Newly planted trees don’t sequester carbon, or at least very little. Most verification programmes don’t verify trees as removing carbon until they’re around 10 years old.
In comparison, we're creating a carbon footprint now. By using electricity, or driving a car, our actions are resulting in carbon being released in near enough in real-time.
So although planting trees might be great for the future, they don’t address the environmental impact we create right now.
This is where carbon reduction projects which have an impact in the short-term come into play. Projects such as renewable energy generation, forest protection and community initiatives can have an immediate impact and be used to offset carbon emissions.
This isn’t just about offsetting either - many of these projects aim to reduce our environmental impact in the first place, rather than just trying to counterbalance it.
Carbon neutral vs climate positive
Becoming ‘climate positive’ is a concept which we have adopted from Ecologi, and is at the core of what we’re trying to achieve at Sitebulb. It’s a fairly simple concept and feels like a ‘no brainer’ to us.
Becoming carbon neutral involves assessing your carbon footprint and ensuring that you offset it through whatever means, to achieve carbon neutral status. This is essentially a baseline; you’re making sure that bad stuff is balanced out with good stuff.
Becoming ‘climate positive’ goes beyond that. It means going beyond being neutral, and doing things that actively benefit the environment, and positively impact our climate situation.
Reduce your carbon footprint
It can be easy to focus on offsetting and planting trees and forget about the elephant in the room - one of the most positive changes we can make is to reduce our carbon footprint in the first place.
This isn’t the place for me to start preaching about cycling to work and recycling. We all know that there’s loads of fairly obvious stuff we should be doing more (or less) of. But we often forget about the more subtle impact which comes with less tangible activities - not least of course, our online activity.
Running a PC, sending emails, cloud storage, scraping and crawling - they all produce CO2 emissions. Apparently, the internet accounts for 3.7% of global emissions! And whilst none of this is unique to the SEO industry, it’s safe to say we’re heavy users, and have a responsibility to address our impact.
Be more efficient with your SEO auditing
Gareth already does a lot of work to improve the performance of Sitebulb, making sure it uses less resources on your machine, and in turn consumes less energy while you’re doing audits.
We’ve also made a lot of improvements to our workflow, so users can get the information they need, without crawling superfluous data.
You can help take this even further by being mindful of the impact of your crawling, and ensuring you’re doing it in an efficient way. With any tool, especially crawlers, it’s tempting to just switch everything on and wade through the data when it’s finished to find what you need. But by collecting all this data that you don’t really need, you’re wasting energy (as well as taking longer and slowing your machine down).
When you’re setting up an audit, think about what data you’ll actually use, and switch off any redundant data collection.
URL sampling is often another great way to reduce the size of your audit - do you really need to do a full crawl of all 10 million product pages and their faceted navigation? Or would a few thousand be enough to identify those template based issues?
Work with the experts
We’re SEOs, not environmental experts.
Yes, that’s kind of stating the obvious, but if you’re anything like me you’ll often fall into the trap of trying to do everything. But as we all know, it’s sometimes best to leave the heavy lifting to the experts.
We put a fair bit of time into understanding what we’re doing, and the options for doing it. But when it comes to the specifics we leave that part to those that know better.
We decided that we wanted to offset our own team’s carbon footprint and that of our users’ auditing, and that we want to plant trees each month. But we leave the more granular decisions to the experts. So every month we pay Ecologi (I’ll talk about them in a moment) to invest in carbon reduction projects and plant trees on our behalf. Then in turn, they make the granular decisions about which projects to invest in.
We decided to work with Ecologi for the sustainability work we do. They’re just one of the providers that we could have gone with, but we chose them based on a number of factors, including:
- Personal recommendations
- Transparency of what they do
- Clear accreditation
- They’re UK based, but invest in global projects
- Simplicity of the platform
- Availability of APIs
If you’re looking to do similar offsetting or tree planting activity, you’ll need to go through your own selection process to find the best provider for you.
That said, based on our experience so far, I’d highly recommend Ecologi.
If you do decide to work with Ecologi, make sure that you use our referral link when you register. We don’t get any commission, but they’ll plant 30 extra trees for both of us if you do! (We like more trees).
Offset your own team
Our climate activity grew into something much bigger than we’d originally planned. But it all started off with the idea that we wanted to address the carbon footprint of the Sitebulb team.
If you’re looking to take action, this is a great place to start.
There’s loads of ‘carbon calculators’ out there to help you assess your current carbon footprint. This is far from an exact science and calculators can vary a lot. They often use different methodologies and coefficients for variables, and of course they’ll vary depending on your location.
I found this guide on ‘how to calculate your carbon footprint as a small business’ from the Federation of Self Employed & Small Businesses (UK) a useful primer when we were getting started.
Then of course there’s another option - let the experts do their stuff.
I’ve already mentioned that we work with Ecologi - one of the things they provide us with is their ‘Climate positive workforce’ subscription package. Rather than trying to do it myself, I’ll steal Ecologi’s own explanation:
Essentially we came to the conclusion that we were never going to be truly accurate in our footprint calculations, and the time/resource spent doing them would be better invested in actually doing something.
This approach won’t be for everyone. For larger organisations it’s important to have a true understanding of your environmental impact, which is where carbon audits come in. But for us, and I’d imagine a lot of SEOs and agencies, we’re confident that this goes over and above covering our impact.
As with everything else, other brands are available, but if you want to investigate what Ecologi offer, have a look at their climate positive workforce packages.
Offset your clients or customers
Beyond our own impact, we can then consider the wider impact of the work we do with clients and customers. For us, that means investing in projects each month to offset the auditing that Sitebulb users do.
Obviously consultants and agencies are in a slightly different situation, but there’s still scope for going beyond your own footprint and tying it into sales or clients, even if it’s something as simple as planting X number of trees for each client you bring on-board.
Ecology offers Shopify, Zapier and API integrations, so there’s plenty of scope for automated solutions too.
And whilst it would be convenient to make out that this is all altruistic, sustainability is increasingly becoming recognised as a factor in B2B decision making. So it’s worth considering how you communicate what you’re doing to clients (and potential clients).
Quick start guide
Want to skip the wordy bits and get straight to the doing? Ok, here’s some things you can do right now:
Buy some trees for our forest
- Go to the Sitebulb Ecologi page.
- Scroll down to the ‘gift more impact’ button:
- Select how many trees and/or tonnes of carbon your want to purchase
- Add your name (if you want)
- Your trees will appear in our forest instantly, along with your name, and full details of the planting project and location:
- We say a massive thank you!
Offset your workforce each month with Ecologi
- Go to Ecologi’s climate positive workforce page.
- Click the ‘get started’ button.
- Select your number of employees for each package level:
- Subscribe and pay.
- Sit back and bask in the knowledge that you’re doing a good thing each month! (plus you get a fancy profile page like ours)
Purchase one-off carbon offsets and/or trees
- Go to Ecologi’s pay-as-you-go climate solutions page.
- Register for a pay-as-you-go account.
- Purchase as many trees and/or tonnes of carbon offsets as you wish.
(Currently £3.70 per tonne carbon reduction, and from £0.12 per tree)
- Set up your own impact profile.
What others in SEO are already doing
We’re far from the only ones doing our bit for the environment. One of the great things about launching our campaign was getting to hear what others are doing.
Claire Carlisle was the first person to recommend Ecologi to me. She’s been using them for some time now, and as someone that is a lot more aware of stuff than myself, I trust her recommendations.
When I first spoke to Simon Cox about what we were planning, before I knew it he had gone and added some of his own trees to the Sitebulb forest!
Thank you Simon!!! It’s this kind of support that confirms to us that we’re on the right track.
Shortly after we launched, Colin McDermott shared what they’ve been doing at Search Candy.
They’ve been offsetting carbon and planting trees for just over a couple of years now, and have already racked up some great impact!
What we’re doing isn’t perfect, we know that. But we do feel like we’re on the right track.
Like a lot of things, it would be easy to get bogged down in the details, overthink it, and get analysis paralysis. On this occasion, we think that as long as you work with partners and projects that you have confidence in, it’s an occasion when steaming ahead can’t be a bad thing.
This is something that affects all of us, and we all need to play our part. For some, it will be a personal thing. For others, something to shout about. If you’re in the latter camp, we’d love to hear what you’re doing! The SEO industry is great at getting behind good causes, and this is certainly one we believe in.
Got some more tips for climate positive SEO? Want to share what you’re doing? Let us know!
And please do have a look at the climate positive stuff we're doing - as well as offsetting our users' auditing, we're also planting trees for every free trial and newsletter signup, so the more people we can get involved, the better!
Geoff does marketing 'stuff' and other things at Sitebulb. He's been one of those SEO types for a long time now, so should know what he's talking about, but that's debatable, feel free to debate it some more.
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