Sustainable web design: how to reduce your digital carbon footprint

Web Design

sustainable web design 1

With the world becoming more sustainability focused, it’s important that businesses are implementing eco-friendly solutions.

Sustainability is continuously talked about in terms of fast-fashion, recycling and fuel emissions, but rarely in a digital sense. In a digital centric era, it’s essential that we understand the impact it can have on the environment. Going online and scrolling through a website may not seem to contribute to your carbon footprint, but it does.

If the internet was a country, it would be the 6th largest polluter in the world. To put this into perspective, this means the internet is emitting more than 1.2 million tonnes of GHG per year.

Believe it or not, the ICT sector generates more CO2 emissions than the aviation industry does. You can help decrease this number by making some minor changes to your digital footprint, particularly when it comes to website design.

In this blog you’ll find some simple steps to consider for your existing website or next build to make it more sustainable.

Declutter and remove obsolete web content

There are a variety of small and large changes you can make to your website in order to be more carbon friendly. Starting with the easy; a simple declutter could be all you need.

It can be easy to forget everything you have on your website, so yearly reviews of its content offer a quick fix by reduction or removal. Decluttering also helps with user experience (UX). Having good UX is essential as the more streamlined and navigable the website is, the less energy wasted trying to decipher where to go or what to do next.

Every website strives to have high levels of SEO, right? So why not look at this from a different angle. When you’re making those monthly objectives and decide you want to increase your SEO and become carbon neutral, tackle them together.

Having a high SEO ranking means people can access your information quickly and easily. People spend less time browsing the web looking for information and visit less pages that don’t meet their needs meaning less energy is consumed.

When you add up all the electricity of all the data centres in the world, it comes to nearly 1% of the world’s global electricity use. Knowing this, when you next launch a website make conscious eco-friendly decisions in the design and build process.

How do you design and build a sustainable website?

Clean, streamlined code

If you are designing a website with sustainability in mind, a good place to begin is with the code. A bespoke website built with clean code, as opposed to a pre-determined theme or template, will ensure that there is a lot less data consumption. This is one of the main factors that contributes to your digital carbon footprint, but is often forgotten about because it happens behind the scenes.

Aside from this, having tidy and streamlined code is fundamentally a good thing all round. It makes it a lot easier to maintain and easier for search engines to understand – meaning your website will load quicker. A fast loading website is a huge advantage in the SEO stakes.

Use JavaScript efficiently

Equally, using less JavaScript (JS) code aides sustainability. The functionality driven by JS is processed on the user’s computer/phone and increases CPU (Computer Processing Unit) usage, which in turn increases the energy consumption of the device.

Aiming to use more efficient technologies such as CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) or to use JS more efficiently makes a considerable difference. All software has it pitfalls, but one thing to be mindful of is using tracking and advertising scripts as they rarely offer value, but add significant file weight, cause high CPU usage, slow websites down and invade privacy.

Implement “lazy loading” for web content

Concepts of modern website design may not seem energy relevant, however there are a lot of disguised sustainability features that are conveyed as design choices. When you browse through a website and it effortlessly loads as you scroll, that is an eco-friendly design aspect. This technique is commonly known as lazy loading. Operating your website via lazy loading means that the browser will only load the part of the website visible to the user.

Adopt system fonts over custom fonts

When looking at specific design features, implementing eco-friendly type is a really simple way to boost your websites sustainability ranking. Making conscious decisions to use system fonts over custom fonts will decrease the amount of HTTP requests you make and shrink the weight of your page.

By doing this, you will be ensuring the least amount of energy is used to load your site. Another simple aesthetics change you can make is to the colour scheme of your website. Embracing dark mode could be the way forward as darker colours use less energy – a factor that is so simple yet highly effective.

Being mindful of these preventative measures when planning your site will save on overall web page size and server load time when your website launches.

Wait, what if you already have a website and want to optimise its sustainability?

There is a great misconception that dynamic offsetting is the optimum way to become sustainable and to some extent, yes, it is. If your purchase offsets at the same rate you emit carbon e.g. every time you hit 50,000 or so visits to your website a tree is planted, then undoubtedly this is a form of becoming more eco-friendly.

However there is a better way to do it. By all means, implement this alongside other changes you intend to make, but keep in mind this is not the most efficient way to do so and will not make your overall site ranking improve.

The idea of making changes to your existing website may seem overwhelming, but a good place to start is to invest in a benchmarking service. Benchmarking your current site will allow you to measure how sustainable you currently are and how much change you need to make. Continuing to track this data will allow you to calculate the difference the changes you make are having to your carbon footprint.

Create a sustainability web page

Once you have made all the changes you can and are satisfied with your new and improved sustainability ranking, it’s time to talk about it. Why not create a sustainability page on your website to discuss what you are doing for the environment?

In a world growing ever more reliant on technology yet so let down by global warming, improving your website sustainability is something you should be proud of and want to showcase to your audience.

What are Creative Direction doing to build sustainable websites?

Here at Creative Direction, we take sustainability very seriously and continually do all we can to make our media presence as eco-friendly as possible. When we build and launch websites, Google calculates the sustainability index of each one and we have consistently ranked way above average.

The current levels for our websites stand at around 80/100 for mobile and we regularly score over 90/100 for desktop. These statistics are unmatched across the East Midlands and no other agency that we know of is producing websites that are as sustainable as ours.

When a client approaches us, we have it in our best interest to consciously construct their websites to be environmentally optimised. We do this is numerous ways, for example, no themes or templates – we bespoke design from scratch; we ensure all images and videos used are optimised and we have less redundant code than the average website down to our custom coding. We also benefit from the use of techniques such as ‘lazy loading’ and ‘caching’ another two large contributors towards carbon neutrality.

If you take some time to explore our personal website you will notice that the factors discussed in this text can be seen and appreciated.

It’s important to remember that even though it is possible to fix your existing website, sometimes the best thing to do is to start from scratch. Building a new website with all of the eco-friendly elements in mind, will ensure that you are operating as close to carbon neutral as possible and allow you to convey to your audience that you really are sustainability focused. This new start would future-proof your business for the next 5-7 years.