Is your website environmentally friendly?
It’s every day that we hear about the negative effects on the environment of air travel, leaving lights on, eating a meat-heavy diet and driving our cars, but we rarely hear about the impact websites are having.
If you’re sitting there thinking you didn’t realise a website could be environmentally unfriendly don’t worry, you’re not alone. Despite the internet being responsible for producing 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions each year (which currently stands at more than aviation!), there is very little awareness of the problem. As a designer, I design for the user and rarely think about the impact of my designs on the environment. However, I’ve recently become aware that there are things that designers, alongside developers, can do to minimise a website’s impact on the environment. To learn more, I spoke with some of our development team who already practice environmentally-friendly software development.
This is a good place to start because it’s only once people know how websites use energy they can begin to look at ways to reduce the amount used. Without getting too technical, the way a website works is this: a website sits on a server and every time someone wants to view a web page the browser needs to send a request to the server to ask it for information to display. In order to gather all this information, the server will compile and send back the information requested, routing back through switches, DNS servers, routers and caches. All of these machines require energy, in the form of electricity, to transfer data. The more complex a website the more requests it may need to make and, as we now know, more requests = more energy. If you consider how sophisticated many websites are nowadays: videos, high-resolution images, motion graphics, forms and more, you can begin to get an idea of how much energy websites consume.
There are many ways but the below are the top ones.
Images and videos are often very large files with more data than any other parts of a website page and, in order to send large quantities of data, servers use more energy. There are different ways of reducing the data weight of an image or video; the first is to use fewer images. This isn’t always possible, especially for websites whose popularity relies on their imagery. A client of ours, the world-renowned architecture and design magazine, Dezeen, is a good example of this. While Dezeen can’t reduce the number of images on their site without affecting the popularity of their site, they are working towards reducing their impact. How? This leads us on to the second way of minimising the data weight of images: optimising images and videos in such a way that the file size is reduced without impacting their quality or the user’s experience.
There are two types of fonts; fonts that come installed on computers; ‘system fonts’, and others that aren’t; ‘custom fonts’. While custom fonts allow for much more flexibility and artistic style, they can often be large files and require many requests to the server for the font file (as opposed to system fonts where all the data is already on people’s computers so no data request is needed). It might not always be an option to use system fonts as the choice is limited, but using custom fonts sparingly would be a good place to start.
How people navigate around your website is important. If the content structure is unclear people will click on numerous different pages before landing on what they wanted to find. By laying out your site’s content clearly, navigation will become easy and users will find the content they’re after more quickly, reducing the amount of energy used, both by your user’s device and the server.
Minimising the use of third party scripts can vastly reduce your website’s carbon emissions. Consider auditing your website to ensure all third party scripts are absolutely necessary. Having your website written in clean and streamlined code also decreases your website’s carbon emissions. Optimised code, written in a concise and standardised way (to remove duplication) requires fewer requests and less energy.
Much of the energy consumption a website creates is in data centres (physical sites where servers are held) through the transference of data. These days data centres have an energy-efficiency rating so you can choose to host your server in a highly energy-efficient one. Not only this, but you can also choose a data centre located as close to your target users as possible. As energy is used in transferring data, by reducing the distance data needs to travel between your servers and your users, you reduce energy consumption. So, if your users are located in the UK we would recommend hosting your server at a UK-based data centre rather than one in say, the U.S.
All of the above changes decrease the time it takes for a website page to load. We’re all used to such frictionless experiences on the internet that our expectations of websites have skyrocketed; we want to buy a product with one click, we want websites to remember our information so we don’t have to fill it out twice, we don’t want to be overwhelmed by choices and, heaven forbid, we have to wait for a page to load! There are lots of different facts and statistics on how many users will drop off after just a 3-second wait time but what they all agree on is that the longer a page takes to load the more people leave. It’s also worth mentioning that Google has used page speed as a ranking factor since 2010 so a faster page speed will improve your SEO which means you’ll appear higher up on Google search results.
This might go without saying, but if your users enjoy their time on your website – if they’re able to find what they’re looking for easily or don’t have to wait for pages to load, they are much more likely to stay around and do what it is you want them to do. This could be anything from buying your product, signing up for your newsletter or sharing some of your content. In short, the changes we’ve spoken about in this article will all provide your user with a smooth and enjoyable experience and this will increase your conversion rates.
We hope you have found this article eye-opening about the impact websites can have on the environment. I’m going to finish by saying that while we should all continue striving to make our websites use as little energy as possible, it is inevitable they will always use some. A way of tackling the remaining amount of carbon emissions is by offsetting it through investing in an equivalent carbon saving elsewhere. There are many ways of doing this but at Den, we have a subscription with Ecologi, allowing us to offset our carbon emissions. So far we have offset 31.22 tonnes of carbon and have planted 709 real trees in Mozambique, Madagascar and the UK.
You might now be wondering how environmentally friendly your website is and exactly how much energy it uses. If you’d like to talk to our development team about your website and reducing carbon emissions, get in touch here.