The internet, connected gadgets and other associated systems are said to have an annual carbon footprint equivalent to 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions. To put that into context, it is more than the entire aviation industry’s carbon output. But what has that got to do with the automotive sector?
It’s true that improving the digital carbon footprint of manufacturer and dealership websites will only account for a tiny fraction of the total emissions of wider automotive businesses. However, as we strive for a cleaner future with more electric and hybrid cars on the road, what happens ‘off road’ in terms of sustainability matters too.
When we go on social media, load a website or engage with other online activities, data is downloaded from multiple sources and travels to our screens. This ‘data trip’ can go via many countries to get to us, which requires power – along with the carbon impact that brings.
The internet, connected gadgets and other associated systems are said to have an annual carbon footprint equivalent to 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions
So, when four and a half billion people with access to the internet globally are making trillions of interactions a year, the cumulative effect is what makes the internet such a high CO2 producer.
Cleaner journeys on- and offline
Stakeholders across the automotive sector have a duty to understand the cumulative effect of online activity in manufacturing, sales, service and all other aspects of their daily businesses. Consider this: what do you hate most when you go online, whether to browse, shop or use social media? For many, the answer is how long it takes for a page to load, closely followed by the number of steps it takes to get to what you’re searching for. In fact, one study by Digital.com found that companies with slow website load speeds leave a negative impression on 45% of consumers.
Customers value speed and efficiency when shopping online. Research from MarketingCharts suggests that 97% of consumers backed out of a purchase because it was inconvenient, and 83% of these consumers say that convenience while shopping is more important now than five years ago.
Website speeds also matter now more than ever. For every second a page slows down, so does the conversion rate. Portent found that at one second conversions were at 40%; 34% at two seconds; and at three seconds it was 29%. That goes even lower when load times increase.
When looking at high-performing, low carbon websites, eBay is a good example of a busy ecommerce site that gets these things right. It may not be aesthetically pleasing to some, but one thing it does very well is load fast. It’s also ‘low cost’ from a carbon footprint point of view as it doesn’t serve up data that you don’t need. It’s all about speed and convenience.
Keeping it simple and only providing the necessary information on each page means the whole website becomes lighter, easier to navigate and, importantly, faster to load. With lower data transfer levels as a consequence, the digital emissions are markedly reduced, and site performance becomes much better. In turn, from a customer journey perspective, a better performing site should lead to more enquiries and—ultimately—improved conversion rates.
Although more conversions lead to better car sales —which could be bad for the environment—we need to meet the industry where it is and support its sustainability efforts. The reality is that people need cars, so we can at least direct them towards automotive companies that aspire to become greener by reducing and offsetting carbon where they can. EVs are the closest we have to carbon-friendly vehicles, and by adding support to companies with an environment-first mindset, we can come closer to discovering even better automotive solutions in the near and far future.
Make sites mean more on the green journey
Vehicle manufacturers state the performance of their cars as a selling point, so why should the efficiency and speed of their websites matter any less? Then there are the optics benefits, as more people get used to the idea of mitigating the environmental impact of their online lives. For instance, having the metrics of a better-performing website at their fingertips allows brands to tell their customers how much carbon they’re saving by ordering online.
A manufacturer can calculate the emissions from purchasing or ordering a vehicle online versus a typical trip to the dealership. If added to all the other millions of sales, and millions of trips to the forecourt, they could calculate the amount of CO2 saved and conversion rates from faster online experiences.
But vehicle brands and dealers need to go one step further. They need to encourage customers to purchase their car online instead of making multiple trips to a showroom. Whilst the automotive sector must, like all sectors, focus on its core journey to net zero, a low-carbon website can be an important way to convey this journey to the customer.
A better performing site should lead to more enquiries and—ultimately—improved conversion rates
Consumers’ shopping behaviours are changing as they become more connected, and e-commerce is on the rise in many sectors including automotive. Brands and dealers that can strike a balance between online and shop floor sales are set to succeed as long as they can deliver consumer needs like speed and convenience. They will meet the customer desire to purchase from brands that align with their values on sustainability among other things.
Certainly, automotive brands and dealerships are just starting their journey to net zero. Continuing to offer online sales, powered by websites that load quickly with reduced need for data, will help further reduce the emissions associated with consumers’ online interactions with the industry.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
James Cannings is Co-founder, MMT; Chief Sustainability Officer of MSQ
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