What is Sustainable Website Design?

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Aydee Latty
what is sustainable website design

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What is Sustainable Web Design?

Sustainable website design is the process of creating websites that are environmentally friendly, easy to maintain and have a minimal impact on the planet. Sustainable website design employs greener hosting providers, uses renewable energy and considers the impact of a website on its users, both in terms of its carbon footprint and its overall usability.

 

Sustainable website design is not something most of us consider. But maybe it is time to start.

Every time someone clicks on your website CO2 is added to the atmosphere. This happens not only when they visit your website but also when sending emails, looking at videos, using social media, surfing the web – or accessing the digital world.

Data centres storing data, transmission networks, and end-user devices require energy.

According to an ESCP Business School (Grande école de commerce et de management) article from 2021, there are nearly 5 billion active internet users worldwide. This accounts for 1.6 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

And those numbers are rising.

A couple of decades ago the paperless movement began and continues today. It is now the norm to see options to go paperless from institutions such as banks and insurance companies. The connection between paper and trees is well known because we need trees to breathe.

But energy consumption is not always visual. If greenhouse gases were colourful, they would give us a constant reminder to conserve energy. Since most of us don’t live next to a pollution-emitting power plant, attaining net zero emissions requires active education and outreach.  

As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Fortunately, there are ways to build your website sustainably and significantly reduce your carbon footprint. And once you achieve this goal, share your accomplishment with others.

server web hosting
Web hosting server

Why do we need sustainable website design?

Here are the reasons why sustainable website design is important today.

  • It helps you achieve your green goals
  • It helps in reducing costs
  • Improves the user interface
  • Improves the user experience

Helping reduce the environmental impact of a website. Sustainable design will minimise the website’s energy consumption, water use, and waste production. This can help reduce the website’s carbon footprint and meet your goals of becoming greener.

Improving the economic performance of a website. Better design choices will improve the website’s efficiency, reducing operating costs. This can help improve the bottom line for you as a website owner.

Environmentally friendly design should improve the website user interface (UI). Improving the UI will improve the social performance of your website. Your website will be more accessible and user-friendly, improving your reach, engagement and overall impact.

Sustainable design can help improve the overall quality of a website. By using sustainable design guidelines, we can improve the website’s backend functionality and make it more reliable. This may help improve the website’s overall quality, making it more trustworthy and giving the user a better browsing experience.

How do I make my website more sustainable?

Designing a sustainable website has multiple benefits. When designed and built using sustainable methods, your website runs faster, is found easier, and reduces your carbon footprint and the footprint of those visiting your website.  

Moving from on-premises infrastructure to services like Amazon Web Services (AWS), or other cloud services committed to 100% renewable energy, can reduce your carbon emissions by as much as 88%. (1) This is just one way to make a significant difference.

Here are a few web design methods to consider when building your sustainable website:

  1. Reduce image file sizes and use lazy load coding for images and media as much as possible. Ask yourself if you need all the images to communicate information. In some cases, could a vector graphic be used instead of a photo?
  2. Include a web caching option. I use wp-rocket on many of my websites. I also use Content Delivery Networks such as Bunny CDN. This will ensure that files are served from the location closest to the user.
  3. When you change things on the website, delete what you no longer need. Good housekeeping means that files and code are not being loaded unnecessarily in the browser.
  4. Reduce the time needed for users to find what they are looking for. The sooner they get there, the better. This means having excellent SEO on every page. Optimise your website page structure so that the most important information is above the fold or in the users’ view when the page first loads.
  5. When they do find your content, make sure it is useful. This includes clear and efficient copywriting. Otherwise, all that energy used for browsing is wasted. If a user cannot find what they are looking for within 5 seconds, they usually move on to the next website.
  6. Host the website on servers in facilities operating on renewable energy.
  7. If video is necessary, remove auto-play. Videos on a website use about twice as much energy as a website without video.
  8. Font size and type matter. One font file can be 250kbs and bold doubles that size to 500kbs. It is best to use system fonts like Arial and Times New Roman. Sticking to a single font variation is best.
  9. Have clean code. This includes code you write yourself and code that you borrow from others.
  10. CSS is much more efficient than JavaScript.

What can you expect from making your website more sustainable?

It is obvious by now that making your website sustainable will benefit the planet and future generations.

Openly sharing your results can have a positive ripple effect that makes that impact even greater. Others will ask you how you were able to reduce your carbon footprint just by making changes to your website. This tiny spark of interest can create a fast spreading wildfire of change.

Another benefit is having a more efficient website. Sustainable websites load faster because of optimised images, videos, and code. Superfluous content is removed. Putting your website on a diet is better for the health of our planet.

Relevancy is also rewarded. Users find what they need faster when the user interface is easy to navigate and void of clutter. Concise copywriting provides information without all the fluff. The Helpful Content Update from Google will reward you with better search rankings if your content directly answers the question your readers are searching for.

How do I get started with sustainable website design?

If you built your own website, you may not understand all the technical aspects of making it sustainable. In this instance, you should first find a web developer to give you a proposal.

Know that not every web developer understands sustainable website design, including yours if you had it built by someone else.

Before you contact a developer, there are some things you can do yourself.

Does your hosting provider run on 100% renewable energy? If not, moving to one that does can reduce your carbon footprint considerably. There are many green hosting providers to choose from.

You can conduct an audit of images on every page.  Ask yourself if it is necessary to convey the information or if it can be replaced by vector graphics. Conduct a site audit at SEO Site CheckUp https://seositecheckup.com/

SEO Site Checkup Results
SEO Site CheckUp

If you have videos, are they set on auto play?  If so, turn that off. Also, find out if the videos need to be embedded on your website or if it would be more efficient to have them hosted on a faster, green video hosting service.

Read each page for clarity. Are you giving information in a concise manner or is there a lot of fluff? You are the expert here, but writing may not be your favourite thing to do. Consider hiring a copywriter who is experienced with this form of writing.

Other sustainable website design elements require an expert

Elements that are done on the backend of a website are best left to web developers who are experienced with sustainable design. This includes things like SEO, image editing, special programming and coding.

Hiring a sustainable website design agency allows you to work on your own business instead of learning skills you may only need to use once.

Website Carbon Test
Website Carbon Test

How do I know if my website is sustainable?

If you enjoy following data for your website, here is a new one for you to follow as you go through this process. There are a few sites out there that estimate the carbon footprint of your website.

Each calculator may give you different results, but you can get a general idea of where you stand.

  • Website Carbon claims they are the first website carbon calculator.
  • If you use Amazon Web Services, they include a Customer Carbon Footprint Tool in your account under Cost & Usage reports.
  • Greenpixie is a barebones website carbon calculator and shares the result as a comparison to other websites.
  • Karma Metrix Gives you a comparison to other sustainability websites, but you can also ask for a personalised audit.

Conclusion

A sustainable website is designed for more than just the intended purpose of getting people to see it. Sustainable web services offer a path that benefits the future and health of our planet. That website you build today has an impact on generations to come across the entire planet. Every single activity online emits carbon into our atmosphere and contributes to climate change.

To transform into a zero-emissions economy, we need to do more than buy carbon offsets. Instead, we need to reduce the number of emissions created by our website designs. Understanding sustainable website design and how it affects the planet is the first step. Learning what options make the biggest impact comes next.

It’s time to start designing and building sustainable websites and spread the word. One by one we can make a large impact.

Citations

  1. https://aws.amazon.com/compliance/data-center/environmental-layer/
  2. https://escp.eu/news/reduce-your-digital-carbon-footprint-shape-greener-future

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