Sustainability in web design

EarthWhen you hear the word ‘sustainability’, you don’t tend to think of websites and web applications. However, the internet has an annual carbon footprint of 830m tonnes (which is 2% of all emissions, projected to double to 4% by 2020), which would place it at number 6 in the world if it were a country. Web developers are partially responsible for at least forty percent of these emissions. Some of these statistics are more than 4 years old, so these figures are likely to be even higher now. An infographic created by CustomMade provides a graphical representation of C02 emissions through internet usage.

So what can be done?

 

On a design level:

  • Good user experience – the easier it is for someone to find what they need on your site, the less pages are loaded, meaning less server requests. For example, is the navigation on your site clear and easy to use?
  • Showing resources only when needed. For example, utilising the HTML5 srcset element on pictures means you will only load the image with the correct size for the screen size you are browsing from.

On a development level:

  • An efficient, quick loading site. The quicker it loads, the more efficient it is with less processing going on behind the scenes. For example, minifying your resources (eg. CSS and JS) reduces the size of your code, reducing bandwidth usage. Similarly, using image sprites reduces the number of server requests, saving bandwidth. Where possible, consider using SVG’s.
  • Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) so websites can share script files. Examples include Google’s hosted libraries (serving jQuery, AngularJS and more).

On  hosting level:

  • Choosing a host that powers its servers with renewable energy, and whose servers are efficient, is the biggest step in serving a sustainable website. Here is a short list of a few of these hosts: Netcetera (* see bottom of page) (Isle of Man), Ecohosting (UK), Any host based in Iceland
  • Use a CDN on top of your hosting service to optimise web page delivery.

 

Even after religiously applying all of these to your website, your site will still have a carbon footprint. You could choose to buy an offset –  though this won’t remove the CO2 produced – or invest in a project committed to environmental or sustainability education.

Digital Footprints

In a contradictory world, the shift of many businesses to the online world, as well as the numerous start-ups geared at saving CO2 through such ideas as car sharing and web conferences, is more than making up for the footprint that the internet itself creates.

That shouldn’t stop us from reducing our web footprints whenever possible. If we can reduce our own footprints and those of the websites we build, we should. Every small change makes a difference.

If you want to learn more, I recommend participating in Sustainable UX, a new online conference which is into it’s third year in 2018. Join in for free and listen to heaps of presentations by specialists in their fields. Topics cover digital design and climate change, asking questions such as ‘can the internet be powered by renewable energy?’, ‘how can we make the web more accessible and sustainable for all?’ and ‘what is the role of UX in combatting climate change?’.

 

For more reading on this topic, check out these sites:

Sustainable Web Design

W3C Sustainable Web Design Community Group

EcoGrader – how green is your website?

The Green Web Foundation

Mightybytes

Infographic: The Carbon Footprint of the Internet

 

(*) Note – this is an affiliate link. I will get a small % of your first purchase made if you use this link.

By Karen Attfield

Happiness Engineer

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