Sustainable web design may seem like a strange topic. The internet is just floating bits of information, right? And since it doesn’t take up any ‘space’, how could it affect our physical world?
Believe it or not, the internet has a huge impact on our planet. It gobbles up lots of electricity, contributes to pollution, and affects how you run your business.In the next few blog posts, I’ll discuss why your website has an impact, what you can do about it, and why you should start now.
But just to get you interested, let me lead with two points...
Brands that drive social impact (like environmentalism) substantially outperform their competitors.
- Greening up your website can make it faster and more user friendly, which drives SEO, and increases engagement, conversion, and dollar spend.
Your website has a carbon footprint!
Let's pretend you run Catpyjamas.com.
When a customer types that web address into their browser, their electronic device sends out a little signal into the world. That signal gets picked up by a radio tower which beams it on to a satellite, which in turn chucks it along to a data centre somewhere down the road.
That data centre looks for “cat pyjamas” in its bank of servers. When it finds your website, it packages it all up, and sends it back along the air waves until it gets to your customer.
All this happens in a matter of seconds, so you might not think about how it’s impacting the planet, but the truth is, your website has a carbon footprint, and there’s a simple reason for that.
Storing, sending, and receiving data uses electricity, which we generate mostly by burning stuff, which creates greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide. How does this happen, and what can you do about it?
First let’s look at storage.
When you make a website, it needs to live somewhere, usually that’s a server somewhere in a data centre. But data centres need electricity to keep their servers switched on, and more electricity to keep them cool.
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.
To reduce your website’s carbon footprint, the first thing you should do is ask your data centre or hosting provider what they use to power their servers. If they aren’t using clean energy sources like wind or solar, consider switching to a different provider.
Imagine that your website is a package you are taking to the post office. Packages that are heavy and have to travel a long way away cost more to send than post cards you want to send down the road.
The same is true for websites. The more you put on your website, and the further your data has to travel (this is the distance between your data centre and your customer), the more electricity you will use.
To minimise this, you can make your website more efficient, and distribute your data centres closer to your end consumers.
The final step before your customer sees your website is when it loads on their device.
Whether it’s a laptop or a mobile phone, it needs electricity to work. Websites with more ‘stuff’ on them eat up more power than websites with less stuff. This is the third way your website has a carbon footprint.
Just like with sending data, you can reduce your website's carbon footprint by making your website more efficient.
Why does this matter?
As a business you should care for 2 key reasons:
- The first is a point I've made before – eco-friendly businesses are more successful than ‘businesses-as-usual’. Your website is a part of your business.
- Efficiently-built websites (aka. ‘green’ websites) provide a better online customer experience, and that ultimately affects your bottom line.
Over the coming weeks I’ll expand on how you can reduce your digital carbon footprint and make your website more efficient, but if you’d like to know more in the mean-time, do get in touch.
Credit: Sam Selbie, Senior UX Producer