Why websites aren’t as clean as we think
When we think about our carbon footprint and how businesses can be more sustainable we probably wouldn’t consider the environmental impact of our websites. So it might come as a surprise to find that internet usage (around 5 billion users worldwide), the devices used and all the supporting infrastructure are estimated to be responsible for around 3 to 4% of global CO2 emissions. This is often compared to the emissions produced by the global aviation industry. Every time we view a website page, send an email, or watch a video we generate carbon emissions.
Today on the blog, Davina from Miller Web Designs talks to us all about website’s carbon emissions and 5 simple, effective ways that could make a difference to how much carbon your website is generating.>>
How does a website generate carbon emissions?
The internet requires vast amounts of energy. The actual data and files that we see on our screens are normally hosted on physical servers, housed in enormous data centres around the world, requiring energy to run. Every online action we make on a website will send a request to a server, requiring energy. The levels of emissions are pretty minimal but when you consider the number of websites and users around the world it soon adds up.
How can we actually measure how much carbon is generated by a website?
It’s hard to quantify the exact levels of CO2 that are generated by a website but there are now several online resources where you can simply paste in your web address to find out your results. My favourite is the Website Carbon Calculator that was created by the team at Wholegrain Digital. You’ll find out how much CO2 is generated from your webpage with comparisons to how much boiling water would be needed for cups of tea, running an electric car, and blowing bubbles!
How can we reduce a website’s carbon emissions?
As a web designer I have been exploring ways that we can create more efficient low carbon websites and following a small community of web developers and designers who are leading the way in creating websites in a more sustainable way.
A low carbon website is essentially a high performing website that uses minimal energy, without compromising the user experience. As a website owner here are some simple, effective ways that could make a difference to how much carbon your website is generating.
1) The first step is to see whether your website’s hosting company offsets their carbon emissions or even better uses renewable energy. The Green Web Foundation has a list of green hosting providers.
2) Check the size of photos you are putting on your website and use tools to compress them and save in small formats. Uncompressed and oversized photos are often the hidden causes of slowing down a website and requiring more energy.
3) Videos use larger amounts of energy due to the amount of processing needed. If you are displaying video consider the impact it might have on the speed and weight of your website and how much value it adds for your visitors. If you can it’s better to avoid autoplay.
4) Keep your design clean and simple! This way you’re helping your users find information faster and reducing the amount of wasted energy.
5) Clean out your old webpages and media so you are using less storage.
Low carbon websites tend to be simple, clear and fairly minimalist to produce the least amount of energy possible. The designer will be thoughtful about how quickly a user can complete a task and content and images will be included only if they add real value. The general ethos behind creating a low carbon website is to be honest, open, clean and efficient.
The above tips are a good starting point in minimising a website’s carbon footprint but there’s some other major benefits too. It will help the website’s SEO as fast loading speeds and well-structured content are ranking factors with search engines. Using a “less is more” approach can also help contribute to an intuitive, straight forward user experience.
Creating a low digital carbon website for a zero waste refill shop
I recently worked with Faringdon’s zero waste refill shop Tribe Zero-waste to create a low carbon ecommerce website. We were able to make big reductions to the carbon emissions compared to the old website. You can find out all the steps we took to produce a much faster, better performing website in the case study.
‘Greening The Web’
Designing websites in a “greener” way and being conscious of levels of carbon emissions is a new way of thinking about web design. But in fact low carbon websites follow many of the same best practices of any well designed, high performing website, benefitting SEO and usability. Being able to benchmark a website against carbon emissions could be a great way to support web designers in their decisions on layout, content, coding and software.
Greener websites may have a pretty low impact on the environment compared to other polluters but Oxfordshire businesses like Tribe Zero-waste are starting to recognise that their digital presence can play a part in their overall sustainability strategy. With all the benefits that come with a low carbon website It’s a win-win situation for businesses and the environment.