Low Carbon Websites
In 2017 we completed an environmental audit, improving many of our own operations. But until recently, even we had missed the importance of building “low-carbon” websites.
In 2021 we started reviewing the way we built our websites to try and reduce the amount of carbon they produced, and now we look to employ these practices across all of our developments.
Why is website carbon important?
It is estimated that the internet creates more carbon than the whole of the United Kingdom. As the full effects of climate change are revealing themselves, it’s increasingly important for everyone to ensure that they are reviewing all aspects of their lives and business to ensure they are as low carbon as possible. I consider building a low carbon website a grassroots, bottom-up approach to improving our carbon load.
How does a website create carbon?
Firstly, the website sits on a server. These are power-hungry, hot computers that required extra cooling. In addition to using a lot of energy, they are also created using rare materials which cause environmental issues when mined.
Secondly, we have to consider the infrastructure of exactly how the data gets from the computer to the user’s end device. How many cables, extra servers does the transfer of data use? This extends even down to the wifi hotspot or cabling in your own house. (Cabling uses less CO2 than WIFI – FYI).
Lastly, how much energy is your end device using? How long do you spend on the website before completing the task you set out to do? How bright is your screen?
How can a low carbon website help all these areas?
It may seem that so much of this is out of our control that there is nothing we can do to affect it, but this is not the case. In fact, much of this can be reduced by clever planning and thoughtful building.
How to build a low carbon website
A low carbon website will be lean, fast and built with consideration over the content. With this methodology in all areas, we can reduce the overhead of the website and therefore how much carbon the website generates.
A website is comprised of lots and lots of files that are sent from the server to the user’s computer when they visit a web page. Even the most standard of websites is likely to be loading in code from literally all around the planet! Websites are often built using premade “themes” which can be inefficient – loading in code that’s not required. Often they rely on various libraries to provide some of the functionality we are used to seeing, some of which can be hefty! If we build a bespoke website thoughtfully, we can reduce this and ensure only the most pertinent bits of code are used, file sizes are small, and fewer bytes are flying around the world!
A low carbon website reduces the amount of superfluous code that may be loaded in, goodbye heavy code libraries and hello lean clean programming.
Ensuring that the site has a clear and usable structure allows a user to fulfil their purpose on your website easily. If they can find the information they need, they spend less time visiting irrelevant resources and therefore they don’t load in unnecessary data. Properly deleting out of date resources ensures that there is less space taken up on the server too.
Videos are very intensive, using a lot of resources. They should be only be used where value is added, and should be avoided for header areas of a website. If a video is added it should only play when the user deliberately wants to play.
Graphics & Design
Even well-compressed images have can have big file sizes. The design doesn’t always need big images to be beautiful!
- Reuse the same images across the site
- Use SVGS (Scaleable Vector Graphics – graphics created with code instead of pixels) to create visual interest
- Use blocks of colour thoughtfully
Choosing Green Servers for Hosting a Website
Our usual server of choice is Kualo. Their web hosting business is built on green practices from the ground up. You can read more about how Kualo achieved this on their green policy document.
In summary, they use certified renewable energy for their servers and employ a substantial carbon offsetting scheme. They consider themselves a carbon positive company.
Creating a site that is dark, or at least not white, draws less power on the end-users device. Clever design can be both low carbon and beautiful.
In Summary, reducing the overall filesizes while being thoughtful with content and design can reduce the amount of energy being used by both the user and the server, reducing the overall carbon load of the website.
Benefits of a low carbon website
The beauty of a low carbon website is that it also loads much faster too. Its a good motivation to keep a site concise, and usable – win win.
How to find out how much carbon your website creates.
To find out exactly how much carbon your website creates you can use a tool such as www.websitecarbon.com. If you know roughly much carbon each page load takes and you know how many pages visits you have per year then you can easily work out the website carbon of your site. Find out more about how this calculation is achieved.