Posted 14 July 2021
Written by Jeanne Harignordoquy
Illustration by Jose Flores

How to reduce the carbon footprint of your digital portfolio

Ever thought about how your large digital files negatively affect the planet? In fact, if we all cut down on our ‘digital hoarding’, it could have huge environmental impact. This is the topic of a brilliant new project by our sister company, Anyways Creative, entitled Thanks In Advance. Inspired by their research, team creative Jeanne Harignordoquy shares some tips on making your PDF portfolio more sustainable – from compressing images to using power-friendly colours, with illustrations by Jose Flores.

Everything we do online has real-world environmental impact. From the emails in our inboxes to photos and videos in the cloud, our digital files are stored on physical servers that constantly use energy, leaving a physical carbon footprint. And while many of us have worked away remotely over the past year, this has only increased.

At Anyways Creative, we recently discovered a research paper by Andrew Andrea, a specialist in sustainable ICT, that explained how “data centres use an estimated 200 terawatt hours (TWh) each year, which is half the electricity used for transport worldwide.”

After realising the shocking impact that all this digital storage has on the planet, we landed on an idea for a low-energy website called Thanks In Advance, which highlights the impact of digital hoarding, through the lens of something that can be very excessive in volume – emails.

“A more efficient portfolio is, fundamentally, a better portfolio.”

This doesn’t just apply to emails, though. The message here is not to stop making, but to make better. In fact, the energy efficiency of what we do online can be improved with thoughtful design and habits. Individual actions add up, and there is no project too small to start making a change.

PDF portfolios are the perfect example of where creatives can start making a change. By simply paying attention to the details and considering aspects of your design, content selection and how we share PDFs, we can all do our part to help make a difference.

In addition, creating a more energy-efficient portfolio is not only better for the planet, it also improves the experience of the person you are sending it to. A more efficient portfolio is, fundamentally, a better portfolio.

With this in mind, here are four tips to help reduce the digital carbon footprint of your PDF portfolio:

1. Curate and compress to control your PDF size

Images, graphics, text and GIFs are all elements that contribute towards the final size of your document. The bigger the PDF, the more energy it will use to be sent, loaded and stored. And the longer it takes to download, the more you risk losing your recipient’s attention. While it’s a good idea to keep your PDF between 5 to 10MB in size, here are some tips to help you reduce the size of your document:

⛏ Curate your projects
Keep things compact and be selective with the projects you include. Don’t send a 99-page document with 12 pictures of the same project.

🖼 Resize your images
Large images are great at making your portfolio feel slick and smart but where possible it’s a good idea to compress and resize. You won’t need A0-sized, 300dpi files for a digital PDF, especially when the probability of your portfolio being printed is pretty low. Using online free tools like ShortPixel can reduce your image size by up to 85%.

📹 Use third party video hosting
Have you ever been tempted to add a video to your PDF portfolio? Don’t do it! Videos are one of the most heavy files you can add to a document, plus they don't always work with the software the recipient might use. Instead, try linking out your video to an online video hosting service – YouTube is a great choice and most of the energy they use is from renewable sources.

🗂 Compress your PDF
If you’ve tried all of the above and your PDF is still too big, don’t sweat it. Online tools such as SmallPDF also allow you to reduce the size of a document easily and without losing quality.

2. Design in the dark and use screen-friendly colours

The most energy-demanding task for anyone’s device is to actually display and load your PDF. While you can’t control how your recipient chooses to charge their devices, you can reduce the energy consumption of your design when displayed. Here’s how:

🌚 Switch on dark mode
Switching on dark mode for your devices can reduce battery usage by up to 63%, even if a screen is at maximum brightness. In fact, some phones use 54% less battery power if the screen brightness is reduced. While light interfaces may often be the default setting, switching to dark mode while designing is kinder to your battery, screen and eyes.

🌈 Use contrasting colours
With this in mind, know that the colours you use in your design will affect power usage. Colours like white and blue are particularly power hungry, but using more high contrast colours means that users won’t have to increase the brightness of their device. You can check your ‘contrast ratio score’ and find suitable colours on Colorable – an AAA score is the one to aim for.

But remember that it’s all about finding the right balance, and creating a design that does justice to your hard work, too.

3. Add links to keep your emails light

Now that your portfolio is ready, packed with brilliant ideas and amazing designs, it’s time to send it! As explained in our project, Thanks in Advance, whilst the carbon cost of a single stored email is small, it adds up when you think about the number of emails used globally. There are two simple ways to make sure your PDF keeps the carbon signature of your email tiny:

🔗 Hyperlink your portfolio
Each time you send your PDF portfolio as an attachment, it creates a duplicate file, which is stored online on different cloud services. So why not host your PDF online and link it to the email instead. The best option here is to use services that use renewable energy – Google Drive is a great example.

🧶 Keep your email threads to a minimum
Get a reply from your dream employer? Great! When answering their email, just make sure you delete the previous email thread as it duplicates your attachment, increasing the carbon weight of your email chain.

4. Challenge the format!

PDFs are great but they can become outdated fast, and you’ll end up creating lots of different versions as you update them with your latest projects.

📁 Opt for a single editable file
Consider creating a living presentation like a Google Slides document, which will allow you to keep the same digital file whilst keeping it constantly updated and stored centrally on one server.

🖥 Build a more sustainable portfolio site
Similarly, you could think about building an editable portfolio website that puts all these pointers into practice. You can take a look at Anyways Creative’s spreadsheet which gathers learnings on how to design a low-energy efficient website here.


You can visit Thanks In Advance here. Does it make you think differently about your digital footprint? Let the Anyways team know at [email protected]

Written by Jeanne Harignordoquy
Illustration by Jose Flores