According to the website Carbon Calculator, the internet produces 2% of all global carbon emissions. Though this doesn’t seem like much, this equates to over one billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, with the internet actually using more energy than the entire United Kingdom.
You can find out how much energy any given website uses here. As an example, our website uses 0.71g of CO2 every time a user visits the page, making it more energy-efficient than 60% of websites tested. As Carbon Calculator notes, there are three main ways you can reduce your carbon footprint online, but the most effective way is to ensure the website you are building, hosting, or maintaining, is more sustainable.
Though it might not seem like the most important consideration, there are a number of reasons why sustainability should be an important factor in website maintenance and development. One is that sustainability is becoming something consumers care more about year upon year. According to a recent report by Garnier, 96% of businesses contacted said that they are feeling increasing pressure to become more sustainable, and a HSBC report suggests that 86% of businesses expect their sales to grow over the next year from a greater focus on sustainability. Therefore, promoting sustainability in your website is a good way to attract like-minded customers and business associates.
The other reason to make your site more sustainable is because in doing so, you actually end up making a better site. The amount of carbon a website produces comes down to a number of factors, mainly:
- How well the content is structured
- How much content is on the page, and what type of content this is.
- How well the code is structured.
- How the site is hosted.
Therefore, investing the time in creating a good site architecture, ensuring content is succinct and relevant, adhering to coding standards and being smart about your hosting, all not only mean an increased site quality, but also mean you are offsetting carbon emissions for everyone who visits your website.
Cleaner and more succinct user journeys are the goal of any website, in order to reduce dwell time and ensure the user gets where they need to go in the most direct way possible. This not only makes for a better user experience; it also reduces the amount of energy wasted navigating to pages that don’t serve to meet the user’s goal. Understanding your website users and using this information to frame your hierarchy will mean that a lot less energy will be consumed on your website in the long run.
Another way to improve user journeys is to improve your copy. Concise copywriting for your content will ensure that the content is clear and relevant to the user, again meaning no wasted journeys (or wasted energy).
A final point to reduce the energy output of your website is to keep it tidy; this means regularly purging unused images, videos and web pages so that they cannot consume excess energy. In fact, reducing the amount of images and videos in general will help to reduce the weight of your website and the overall energy it requires.
Sustainability considerations are also important for developers in building websites. Tom Greenwood’s article 17 Ways to make your website more energy efficient goes into more depth, but the main points to consider when building sites are:
- Write clean code. Make sure the queries are efficient and avoid duplication
- Use less JS. This will reduce the page weight and processing required by the user’s device
- Optimise images. Use image compression tools and the most efficient file format for each image
- Optimise fonts. Use modern web font file formats like WOFF and WOFF2
We can also ensure the energy efficiency of sites in their hosting. As Greenwood points out, this could include:
- Using server caching. Drupal generates a page dynamically every time a user visits it, which is pretty inefficient as it requires server processing for every page view. Caching technologies like Varnish pre-generate static versions of each page so the server overhead can be significantly reduced.
- Using a data centre close to your users. The closer the information has to travel, the less energy it uses. This will also make page loading times quicker.
- Using a CDN. This will ensure that files are loaded from the nearest CDN location to the users own region.
All of these factors will mean a far more efficiently built and hosted website, thus meaning less energy required and a greener website overall.
Building and maintaining websites is one thing, but what about if you’re just a general web surfer? There are a number of ways that you can be more sustainable online:
- Consider switching your search engine. Over 70% of people tend to use Google as their search engine, and the website is improving it’s sustainability by using a mixture of renewable energy and carbon offsetting. However, you could use an alternative such as Ecosia, which runs on 100% renewable energy and uses its profits to plant trees. Its interface is very similar to Google, making it pretty intuitive to use.
- Go directly to websites instead of Googling them first. Instead of using your search engine like an online pitstop, try to save your most-visited sites to your toolbar, or enter the URL directly to save energy. Visiting the search engine first is of course a required step for search queries, but it is unnecessary in taking us to frequently used websites, i.e., Twitter, or Facebook.
- Clean out your inbox. Make sure your emails are concise, necessary and avoid attachments where possible. One email emits 10g of CO2 (the same carbon footprint as a standard plastic bag) so this does add up. Delete emails you are finished with, as storing these will still consume energy.
- Don’t use your data. This might seem an obvious one, but using WiFi instead of data is at least twice as energy efficient, so in general it’s better to be connected to this as opposed to using data. Downloading movies and shows from Netflix, Prime, and other streaming services instead of streaming them via 4G will save energy, data, and battery life.
- Consider using dark mode. With the rise of OLED screens that light each pixel individually, using darker colours on your screen is a viable method to reduce energy. Also consider lowering your monitor brightness levels to reduce the amount of power needed to light up your screen.