A Guide to Sustainable Web Design

Can You Reduce Your Website’s Digital Footprint?

Guide to Sustainable Web Design

As the years have gone by, the world has been making an attempt toward sustainability and a greener planet. Whether it’s in smaller steps or strides, leaving a greener footprint is beneficial for us all. But there’s one area that’s been overlooked when it comes to sustainability and that’s the digital world. It’s probably because we assume that since it’s a paper-free zone with no physical industrial waste, it shouldn’t have a negative impact on the environment. However, it’s estimated that the internet emits 1.6 billion tons of greenhouse gas each year.

So is there a way you can make your website more environmentally friendly? Yes, there definitely is. Allow us to guide you through it.

What is sustainable design?

First, let’s take a look at what sustainable web design is so that you can understand how to keep your website green and why it’s important that we try to reduce the internet’s environmental impact.

Sustainable web design centres around optimising digital products and services so that they don’t use as much bandwidth and electricity. It considers the amount of pollution that the internet contributes to and is an approach that respects the principles of the Sustainable Web Manifesto:

  • Clean: services should be powered by renewable energy
  • Efficient: services should use the least amount of energy and resources possible
  • Open: allow for open exchange of information and allow users to control their data
  • Honest: not to exploit or mislead users with design or content
  • Regenerative: services should support an economy that nourishes people and the planet
  • Resilient: services should function in the times and places where people need them the most

Sending emails, spending hours scrolling on social media, streaming content online or even just keeping unnecessary data stored on your devices can contribute to internet pollution. According to statistics from the Agency for Ecological Transition (ADEME), one email with a 1MB attachment can emit up to 19 grams of CO2. Just imagine how quickly those numbers can add up.

Why is sustainable design important in 2022?

Our appetite for consuming data has been growing but we, and the planet, might have to pay for it in the future if we aren’t careful. Digital activity is said to produce 2% of the planet’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. You might be wondering how that’s possible, but if you think about all the equipment that’s needed to support your daily online activities, it’ll make sense.

Data centres and network apparatus consume a lot of electricity to keep us online, all the time. As end-users, we also need electricity to power our devices to connect to and browse the internet.

The internet and the digital landscape have not only made life easier but it’s also enabled us to reduce our carbon footprints in other areas. For example, you could save a few forests by going paper-free and opting for the digital versions of documents, books and communication. Or you could save a few trips around the world, and a lot of jet fuel, by having online meetings. In this way, going digital has positive impacts, but that doesn’t mean we should still be ignorant of the negative impacts it can cause. Being mindful is still important.

How can you make your designs sustainable?

There are a few key emission-reducing strategies that you can follow to make your website a little greener. It doesn’t just have to centre around the design of the website alone, but can focus on other aspects of your digital business like content and marketing, hosting, project management and business operations.

To create a more sustainable website you can implement the following:

1. Optimised visual content

Optimised images will load faster when a user opens your page. Not only will this reduce the amount of energy needed to load the page, but it will also improve the user experience (UX) of your website by reducing your user’s frustration. To optimize your images you can compress them so they’re not as large, use progressive JPEGs or use image sitemaps so Google can easily notice your images.

2. Clear content hierarchy

When a user visits your page, they need to be able to quickly identify important information. This will make it easy to navigate your website, improve its usability, allow them to complete their tasks faster and minimise the amount of energy and impact on the environment.

3. Reduce custom fonts

Switching your font type can have a major impact on the size and subsequently the loading time of your webpage. Try using a web-safe font so that compatible browsers don’t have to download additional files to display them. This means less energy consumption and so less impact on the environment.

4. Green web host

Green hosting providers use renewable energy to power their data centres. Some even produce excess renewable energy which they feed back into the grid to lighten the load. Choosing a green host will help reduce energy consumption. Some green hosting providers include AWS, A2 Hosting, Firebase Hosting, and Siteground.

5. Fewer web pages

The more pages your website has, the more requests the server has to deal with. This results in higher energy consumption every time a user visits a different page. Single-page designs can reduce the impact on the environment while improving the positive impact on your user with better UX for all devices, especially mobile.

A step towards a greener digital footprint

It might be difficult to visualise the internet polluting the planet because its effects are not something tangible like paper litter or exhaust fumes. However, our browsing habits can have an impact on the environment and one of the best ways to ensure that it’s a positive one, is to optimize programming and design.

There are also ways that you as a user can help. Be mindful of how you can reduce your online activities like sending fewer emails or deleting those screenshots and memes that you thought you could use later. You really don’t need them, they’re just making the data centres work harder and consume more energy.

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