There is no smoke coming from keyboards or chimneys attached to data centres.
But the fact is it accounts for 10 per cent of the world’s electricity, much of which is sourced from fossil fuels.
As more of our lives move online, and more of the world accesses the internet, that figure will rise substantially, probably nearing 20 per cent within a decade.
So it’s more important than ever that businesses who depend on the internet for their trade also try to take some responsibility for the emissions they create.
E-commerce covers a wide range of sectors and, post-pandemic, estate agents will be more reliant on their website than ever.
That means more page views and, consequently, more electricity consumed due to the data transfer that happens when a web page loads on end-used devices like laptops and tablets.
When you consider the sheer volume of internet activity, including the power consumed by data centres and transmission networks (in addition to the PCs and tablets used at home and the office) the output is immense.
We are all contributing to it.
How, then, can real estate firms compensate for that increased energy use?
There are many ways, starting with making their website climate positive.
By optimising the page through measures like reducing image size, cutting bloat and stopping the auto-playing of videos the page will consume less electricity.
Our board of scientific advisers have identified one gram of CO2 emissions per page view as the threshold under which a website can be considered eco-friendly.
Perhaps those working in real estate would be concerned that such measures would negatively impact the quality of a website?
After all, they need the homes they are selling and letting to look attractive, and for the user experience to be smooth and fast.
Making these adjustments actually enhances the quality and usability, search engine rankings and even the speed of a website, so it’s a win for the customer and the planet.
And businesses keen on taking responsibility for their emissions can go even further.
By choosing a host which only uses renewable energy is one way to make the website “climate positive”.
Website owners can take responsibility for their website’s emissions every year by supporting credible reforestation and rewilding projects.
Recent studies do show enthusiasm within the real estate sector for reducing emissions.
The latest UK Government Business Insights and Conditions Survey showed a third of real estate companies had adjusted their heating or cooling systems, while 27 per cent had gone “paperless” in their offices.
A fifth had installed smart meters on their premises and around one in 12 were looking to change their vehicle fleet to electric.
The survey gathered across the month of June, found other initiatives like switching to LED bulbs, initiating cycle-to-work schemes, and insulating buildings were also being pursued.
These are all worthwhile activities, but many can be inconvenient, costly or take a long time to pay off.
Getting a no-obligation website audit and gaining accreditation from the Eco-Friendly Web Alliance is something that can happen fast and be of benefit to the business at the same time.
It may sound like a small step, but it’s worth remembering there are almost two billion websites in the world.
It would only take a tiny fraction of these to bring themselves beneath the one gram per page view limit to have an enormous positive affect.
We believe hundreds of thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions could be prevented from entering the atmosphere within the decade if websites across the UK bring down their electricity use.
It is worth doing from an optics point of view too.
Repeated studies have shown customers and clients feel more positively toward businesses that take action on environmental issues.
Environmentally aware customers will make choices based on how they feel about a business, even before they visit it, so these efforts can help attract new customers and build loyalty with existing ones.
As the world moves towards net zero, it has never been more important to take action rather than just talk about it.
We will provide a free audit to any estate agent who wants to reduce the carbon footprint of their websites.
Its vital businesses whose website is central to their model can take responsibility for the emissions they generate.
Just as no one wants a branded gas guzzler car sitting outside the office or shop front, nor should they want a gas guzzling website consuming far more electricity than necessary.
It’s time to cut that waste and help the planet in the process.
It will be small and modest steps such as these that, when replicated on a national scale, will be the difference we all need to see.
Developing an eco-friendly website could be the bricks-and-mortar upon which a green business model for real estate is based.
*Shane Herath is chair of the Eco-Friendly Web Alliance