What is Sustainable Web Design?
Sustainable web design is the practice of building websites that are eco-friendly and have a minimal impact on the environment. This means using green hosting providers, using recycled materials, and minimising energy consumption.
Sustainable web design is important because the internet has a large carbon footprint. In fact, it is estimated that the internet accounts for 3% of global carbon emissions. This may not seem like a lot, but when you consider that the internet is only a few decades old, it is clear that its impact is growing at an alarming rate.
By switching to sustainable web design practices, we can help to reduce the internet's carbon footprint and make a positive impact on the environment.
The Carbon Footprint: Your Existing Website
A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases emissions a person or organisation produces.
The internet's carbon footprint is tiny in comparison to other industries. For example, the aluminium industry produces about 9% of global emissions, whereas the internet sits more on par with the aviation industry at around 3% of all global emissions annually. Despite this, the internet's (and it's websites) carbon footprint is growing rapidly every year because the number of people using the internet is growing every year. In addition, the way we use the internet – including streaming videos and music, using cloud-based services, and uploading and downloading large files consumes more energy than ever before.
In 2021, Climate Impact Partners released an infographic detailing the carbon footprint of the internet - and while it is interesting, it's also raises some alarm bells. There are currently over 4 billion active internet users (triple the amount since 2015), using their phone or laptop, every single day. And, there are predictions that global IT emissions are set to double (from 3 to 6%) by 2025.
There's two major reasons why IT emissions are so enormous - (1) the manufacturing and shipping of smart devices across the globe and (2) the electricity required to power and cool computers and phones. Both components are responsible for emitting and contributing to the huge carbon footprint that already exists around our planet.
It sounds quite harmless, right? But think about every time you access a search engine; you're essentially accessing the multiple servers required to host it. Like everything in life, there is a cost incurred - in this instance, the output of GHG gases.
What about your emails? A single email produces around 4g of carbon, and if there's a large attachment, you could expect this number to be closer to 50g. Your average business email activity (including incoming and sent items), equates to approximately 135kg of carbon per year.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as of July 2022 there were 2.5 million actively trading businesses within the Australian economy. If each of those businesses does produce that 135kg of carbon, you're looking at 337 million kilos of emissions. Imagine the environmental impact this will have. It is unthinkable.
It's no shock that Millennials and Gen Z's contribute in their own unique way, through a new era of gaming and online streaming like no other. But while streaming via popular platforms like Twitch increases by 19% each year, these generations of young people are perhaps surprisingly, some of the most eco-conscious in the world. Nielsen discovered that 75% of Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) are so aware of the fragility of our planet, and the increasing concern surrounding the carbon footprint, that they will alter their buying habits in order to favour environmentally friendly, sustainable products.
The IT industry does quite well to counter the increased electricity consumption with better efficiencies, however, there is only so long that this can last. When we eventually run out of options for mitigating the damage we are doing, it's time to face the music.
If you'd like to estimate your websites carbon footprint, check out this carbon calculator.
The Benefits of Eco-Friendly Web Design Practices
The Sustainable Web Manifesto has the perfect combination of words to truly highlight the size (pun intended) of this issue.
It quotes: "If the Internet was a country, it would be the 7th largest polluter"
The Manifesto describes five key features that path the way for a healthier planet, by developing products and services that respect the pillars of sustainability.
Clean. Efficient. Open. Honest. Regenerative. Resilient.
One of the challenges with reducing the internet's carbon footprint is that it is a global network with many different parts. Reducing the carbon footprint of the internet requires cooperation from data centres, networks, and users around the world. Another challenge is that technology advances rapidly, and new energy-efficient technologies often become available after data centres have already been built.
There are many things that can be done to reduce the carbon footprint of the internet. Some of these include:
Renewable Energy Powered Data Centres
Renewable energy can be used to power data centres in several ways. One way is to use solar energy. Data centres can be outfitted with solar panels that will convert sunlight into electrical energy. Another way to use renewable energy to power data centres is by using wind turbines. Data centres can be located near wind farms, and the turbines can generate electricity to power the data centre.
Opting For Green Energy
People can invest in energy-efficient data centre technologies by researching which technologies are available and choosing the most efficient option for their needs. Additionally, people can advocate for the use of energy-efficient data centre technologies by contacting their local representatives and letting them know that this is an important issue to them.
Improvement Of Network Infrastructure
One way network infrastructure can be improved to make it more efficient is by using energy-efficient networking equipment. This includes using switches and routers that consume less power, as well as optimising network traffic to reduce the amount of data that needs to be transferred. Additionally, network administrators can use software to help manage and monitor energy usage on the network.
By following these principles, web designers can help to reduce their carbon footprint and make the internet a more eco-friendly place. In addition, sustainable web design often leads to simpler and more user-friendly websites, which can save time and money in the long run. For these reasons, sustainable web design is an essential part of creating a better internet for everyone.
It's Not Always Easy: The Challenges of Sustainable Website Design
As the world increasingly moves online, sustainability has become an important consideration in web design. Sustainable web design is about more than just using renewable energy to power servers; it also includes ensuring that websites are easy to use and accessible to everyone, regardless of devices or internet connection speed.
While sustainable web design can have many benefits, there are also a number of challenges associated with it. One challenge is that sustainable web design can require more upfront planning and investment than traditional web design.
Another challenge is that sustainable web design often relies on new technologies, which can be difficult to implement and support.
Finally, sustainable web design can sometimes be at odds with other important considerations such as usability and aesthetic appeal. Nonetheless, sustainable web design is an important goal for the future of the internet, and overcoming these challenges will be essential for making it a reality.
How To Implement Sustainable Web Design
A sustainable website is one that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In other words, it is a site that is designed to be socially responsible and economically viable, while considering the website's environmental impact. If sustainable design is your ultimate goal, then it needs to be considered from the get-go in terms of design and development.
There are many ways to tap into digital sustainability, by focusing on some of the core elements of a green website. Below are the steps you can take to achieve this:
Reducing Energy Consumption
There are a few ways that you can become part of the green web. The first is by reducing your website's energy consumption.
You can opt to use a content delivery network (CDN) - which is a service that allows you to store copies of your website's content on servers closer to your users. This can reduce the amount of data that needs to be transferred, because the content does not need to be downloaded every single time a user visits the site - a very clever concept known as caching. Use of a CDN can also speed up your website significantly by improving load times. This is an excellent option for all sustainable sites, while still allowing open exchange of information.
Another way to reduce your websites energy consumption, is by reducing the size and number of images on the website. You can easily do this by using a compression program like Photoshop or GIMP. There are also websites that will allow you to optimize images, such as TinyJPG and JPEGmini.
Green Web Hosting
The term "green web hosting" refers to the use of environmentally friendly methods of hosting websites. This can include using data centres that are powered by renewable energy sources, or utilising storage and servers that have been designed to be more energy efficient. This can include using a data centre that is powered by solar or wind energy, or utilising a data centre that uses sustainable methods of cooling. Some of the services we would recommend are GreenGeeks, HostUpon, and A2 Hosting.
For more information for how to 'go green' and contribute to a more sustainable internet, take a look at the Green Web Hosting Guide, the Green Hosting Directory and the EPA's website on Green Computing.
Using Recycled Materials
A core component of a sustainable business and website, is the use of recycled materials in website design. Honestly, depending on the nature of the business, recyclable materials can be used in both the delivery of products and services, all the way through to web development.
One way is to use recycled paper for your website's background. You can also use recycled plastic or metal for your website's buttons and other graphical elements. You can also use recycled textiles for your website's banner and other decorative elements. If you're worried about how recycled materials may come across visually, do not fear, studies suggest that there is no negative repercussions for the user experience at all. In fact, users love it!
Tom Greenwood curated a wonderful piece of literature called, 'Sustainable web design', that is well worth the read too.
Everyone Has A Role
It isn't just up to major brands and huge industries to make all the changes. Every single person on this planet has an integral role in the Green Future.
You may be asking yourself, "well what can I do to help?". The answer may be simpler than you thought.
- Video streaming - turn off auto-play, close all tabs that you are not actively using to prevent videos playing in the background, and avoid videos if you only require audio.
- Think about how you email - refrain from using the standard "reply all" and unsubscribe from all email newsletters that you are not overly interested in.
- Turn off your devices - even in sleep mode devices will continue to burn energy. Try to set your device to snooze when you're away for a short period of time.
- Dim the brightness - even reducing brightness from 100% to 70%, will save 20% of your computers energy and will lessen the strain on your eyes too.
Eco-Friendly IT Brands
There are some leading brands in the IT sector, who are extremely committed to developing products and services with the 'wow factor', that also reduce emissions too. We think they're worth a mention. Here's some of he highlights.
Apple is already using 100% renewable energy, and has committed to be 100% carbon neutral for it's supply chain and its products by 2023. Vice President, Lisa Jackson, said "We consider our impact on people and the planet in everything we do. And we continue to ask ourselves how we can make our work an even greater force for good in the world". There are so many incredible achievements Apple has made to date. For example, they have seen a 34% reduction in their carbon footprint with the introduction of the M1 chip, iPhones are now made with 100% recycled tungsten in the taptic engine, their packaging contains absolutely no plastic wrapping and Apple watches contain no mercury, PVC plastics, beryllium or BFRs.
Microsoft has pledged to become carbon negative by 2030, and will offset all historical emissions produced by 2050. And as of 2020, Meta is sitting at net zero greenhouse emissions and the use of 100% renewable energy too.
By now, we are hoping that you have a fairly good grasp on what sustainable web design is and how to achieve it. We need to see sustainability in a whole new light, if we are to act quickly and think about a future that puts people and planet first. Our sustainable web design principles can be utilised by anyone, but they are invaluable for the teams - both web designers and developers alike - who are responsible for the creation of digital products at a point in history that will define the world as we know it.
By making a few simple changes to your website, or by thinking sustainable when you make a website, you are already on the front lines of the environmental fight. The best part is many of the changes required, have the potential to not only do good, but also save you money in energy too. If you're ready to make a website or would like to know more, drop us a line, because we would love to hear about your project!