The Carbon impact your new website is going to have probably isn’t high on your list of concerns when planning a new, or updated website. Afterall, websites are virtual and “green” by nature right? No trees felled to print the copy on, no dirty diesel used to deliver it to our users. Whilst websites are certainly a more carbon efficient way to deliver information than most physical means, they still create a carbon footprint. What’s more, that footprint is growing - both in terms of the footprint of each web page served and in the total carbon produced by the worldwide web.
According to a 2017 report, the communications industry is predicted to consume a staggering 20% of global electricity by 2025. So, as the owners of a part of that we all have a responsibility to reduce the impact our websites have.
The good news
Thankfully, reducing the carbon footprint of our website is one of those rare win-win situations. Most of the simple steps we can take are either very low cost or can actually make us more money. This is because much of what makes a website greener is also good for users and good for search rankings. I’ll share some practical tips below to reduce your website’s carbon footprint and benefit your business along the way.
Why do websites produce carbon anyway?
According to the most recent data from the Website Carbon Calculator, the average website they have tested produces 0.5g of CO2 every time a page is served. To put that into more tangible terms, 3 websites that each serve 150,000 pages per month are producing as much CO2 as an average UK household (including energy, food, waste, travel - everything).
This Carbon waste comes as a result of the energy that is used to generate and serve web pages. Servers, networks and even the end-users own computers and phones all use electricity and contribute to that footprint.
What is most worrying is that the trend is that things are getting worse. Webpages are, on average, 4X the size they were just ten years ago. As our connectivity improves and our devices get more capable, we demand more from websites and their impact increases. Global internet usage is also increasing: Both in terms of the number of people regularly using the internet and the amount of time each spends doing so.
As Jack Amend, the co-founder of Web Neutral Project put it: “The internet is essentially the largest coal-fired machine on the entire planet”
Simple ways to reduce your website’s carbon footprint
We can improve the situation though and it isn’t difficult or expensive to make significant positive change. The approach is two-fold: Firstly make sure that more of the energy that is used to serve your pages comes from renewable sources. Then look to reduce that energy consumption. Below are practical steps you can take to reduce your website’s carbon footprint.
Choose a green web host
The biggest single change you can make is also the easiest: Switch to a green web host. As awareness of the impact of websites on the environment increases, so does the number of hosting companies powering their servers through renewable energy.
The easiest way to find out whether you are already using a green host is to use the tools at https://www.thegreenwebfoundation.org/ . If you use a CDN (like cloudflare) it might give you the result for that, rather than you host. It’s easy to check whether your hosting company is also on the list though.
Understand how well (or not) you are doing
Another great tool is The Website Carbon Calculator. Submit your website there and it will estimate how much CO2 your website produces. It looks both at the hosting you use and how heavy your pages are. It’ll all pull in a traffic estimate to give you an idea of how large the annual footprint is, and grade you against other websites.
Reduce the load of your page
In fact, I was surprised to see that my own website, matbennett.com, already performed better than 94% of websites tested when I checked. This isn’t because I specifically optimised it for energy consumption, but because I know that light, fast-loading pages perform better for both humans and search engines.
Use a CDN
Content Delivery Networks take a copy of your website and serve it from a location closest to your users. This is an inherently more efficient way to serve pages than serving them globally from a central server. As long as the CDN you use is powered by renewable energy, this is another simple way to reduce the carbon footprint of your website and improve user experience at the same time.
Consider email too
Although not technically part of your website, it is worth considering how you use email too. Large email signatures and quoting long threads can make a difference. If you are the sort of person who likes to CC a large number of people on every email then those differences also multiply with each person on that list.
Work with agencies who are environmentally minded
The suppliers you employ to build, maintain and market your website will have an impact too. Choosing to work with suppliers who share your values encourages more to do the same and stops your site contributing hidden additional carbon.
Paparico is one such agency. Pararico has a clear and transparent commitment to a more sustainable future, which is exactly why I wanted to write this article for their blog. Their commitment not only extends to reducing their impact wherever possible, but to then offset what remains.
With the carbon impact of the web increasing year on year, we all have a responsibility to consider the footprint our websites lead. The changes I have presented here are simple to do, have real impact and make good business sense even without considering the environmental impact. There really is no reason not to try them.
About the Author
Mat Bennett is a self-confessed “Digital Business Nerd” who has been helping businesses make better use of the internet since the very early days of the web. He’s built and sold a number of successful online businesses, including a digital agency and now works to coach and mentor small businesses looking for similar online success. He writes regularly on his own Digital Business Blog as well as being a frequent contributor on LinkedIn.