Sustainable Web Design

Reducing your website's carbon footprint

What is sustainable web design?

Internet usage increased dramatically during the global pandemic of 2020. How many of us had heard of Zoom before lockdown? Virtual birthday parties, family quizzes and drinks over the internet became the norm for a while.   

Now roughly 4.6 billion people (59% of the population) use the internet. It is estimated that between 2 and 4% of global greenhouse emissions are produced from using the internet, our devices and the supporting infrastructure. That’s broadly equivalent to the emissions generated from global air travel.

Sustainable web design is about  applying best practices to reduce the environmental impact of your website by creating a better user experience and faster processing of your webpages. These best practices go hand in hand with good usability and SEO.

Here are some simple steps to help design, build and maintain your website in a more sustainable way.

graphic representing environmental sustainability

1) Hosting websites with a green hosting provider

Data centres that store, process and deliver the websites’ information on their servers are usually part of an enormous facility requiring a huge amount of energy.  So one of the best ways to help decrease your carbon footprint is by choosing a green hosting provider. You can find a full list of green web hosts at The Green Web Foundation.

The websites I create are hosted with SiteGround and stored in a data centre in London. SiteGround uses the Google Cloud Platform. Google’s data centres match 100% of their energy consumption with renewable energy and are committed to carbon neutrality,  aiming to be carbon free by 2030.  

2) Speed up the page-loading time by reducing and shrinking images

Images can be the biggest cause of slowing down the loading of your webpages and consuming more energy, as well as affecting your customer’s overall experience of the website.

By reducing the size, optimising the images and saving them in special formats (I use Google’s WebP format) can help reduce the time it takes to load your website.  Also consider whether your image truly adds value to your website.

Other steps to speed up the load time of the page I use include enabling browser caching, minimising code and using the latest software updates.

3) Audit your website content

If you have an existing website it’s a common issue for businesses to have a build up of old website pages that are no longer needed. In some cases these pages can still be searchable and ranked by search engines, confusing your customers. If you are thinking about giving your existing website a bit of a refresh this is a great time to audit your content and clean out any pages, media and data you no longer need.  This is something I can help you with.

4) Think about colours

Did you know that different colours require different levels of energy from your screen? Black  uses the least energy and white uses the most energy. Blue consumes 25% more energy than green or red. The higher the colour variation of an image the bigger the output.

Ultimately you will want to create the best experience for your users on your website and studies show that it takes more effort to read a large body of text on a dark background than on a light background.  It’s therefore important to always keep a balance of what works best for your audience.

5) Focus on your website's usability

Customer journeys and site maps can help develop a good navigation structure for your website. Your customer should be able to find the information they are looking for faster, reducing the amount of wasted energy and frustration!   Layouts and design should be intuitive, clear and logical. When creating content for your website  less is often more. Prioritise what’s most important and keep content into small bite-sized chunks.

Using meaningful page titles, page descriptions, headings and tags will make it easier for your website to be understood by screenreaders (software used for vision impairment) and will help search engines understand the purpose of your website more easily. 

6) Make sure your website looks good on anything

Your customer should be able to find information quickly whether they are looking on a phone, laptop or pc.  Your website’s  font sizes, column layouts, images and menu will adjust to the screensize.

The future of sustainable web design

The carbon footprint of our devices, the internet and the infrastructure supporting them is predicted to double in the next 4 years. Online streaming services alone, like Netflix, represent 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions of digital devices.

Sustainable web design is an emerging area of practice and can play a part in helping reduce the internet’s digital footprint.  Sustainable web design has a natural correlation with usability, accessibility and  SEO, making us conscious of how we design, build and maintain websites in a more sustainable way in the future.

 

References

Here are the experts for any web designers wanting to find out more on how to reduce their digital carbon footprint.