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How to reduce the carbon footprint of your website

1 Mar 21

How to reduce the carbon footprint of your website

How many websites have you looked at today? Our online habits of browsing, emailing and downloading data, all have an impact on the environment. The world of paper and print has been working towards sustainability for many years. However, education regarding harmful carbon emissions within the digital sector is often overlooked.

Gaining insight into how our digital behaviours impact the environment, will allow us all to take steps to reduce our digital carbon footprint.

Small actions, when added up, make a big difference.

The computers, laptops, phones and tablets we use to access the internet have become increasingly powerful. With ultrafast broadband connections allowing web pages to load within milliseconds, it’s easy to think that zero energy is needed to deliver them.

The statistics behind internet use tell a different story. According to some estimates, over 3.5% of global greenhouse emissions are caused by using the internet (that's more than the aviation industry). And it’s rising.

Website design: reducing carbon emissions without compromise

As website designers, developers and content creators, we can produce client websites that use energy resources wisely, without compromise.

The key business objectives stay the same - whether it’s to win new business, promote events, or sell products. The primary purpose is for website visitors to reach their goal as quickly and efficiently as possible, and it makes website usability better too. So it’s a win all round.

Carbon content

Website planning

Creating a website with a minimal carbon footprint starts with designing an efficient structure. The aim is to reduce the number of clicks a visitor makes to navigate to a particular page. Think more clicks, more energy.

Page length also makes a difference. Avoiding lengthy pages reduces the energy needed to download the page, with the bonus of creating a more positive visitor experience – as information is easier to find without endless scrolling.

One extreme is the recent trend for single page websites. Text, multiple images, videos, and infographics will need to load each time someone visits the website, when they may just be looking for contact details.

Designability

Design plays an integral part in website usability. Creating a user-friendly site will encourage visitors to stay, rather than bounce. Confusing layouts, clicking on wrong links by mistake, or spending too much time trying to find information, does not make for a good user experience.

The design also has its part to play in reducing the resources needed to load a website. Smart design can make effective use of screen space and images, creating an effective design, while using the least amount of resources.

Font use also has a role in reducing energy resources. For every font included, a separate file will need to be downloaded. If your site can do without that bold italic, don’t include it.

Designing a site with straightforward navigation, signposting and clear calls-to-action, will help guide the visitor.

Content creation

Website content is the main contributor to the data weight of a web page and its size has a significant impact on the energy needed to download a page.

But there are plenty of ways to create impact with copy, images and video, without wasting energy.

Copywriting

Good copy can be concise and informative. Ask yourself, does it create value, or is it fluff? Content with little value to the visitor can lead to wasted page views.

Images

Images add visual impact to a website and help to engage the visitor. But size and quantity can be an issue. A website carousel can display a multi-image presentation, but visitors are unlikely to wait for more than a few seconds before moving on. Do you need six images on a carousel when three will do?

Video

Like images, videos can make compelling content. But they need to be carefully planned and optimised. Keeping them short and sweet will capture the visitor's attention, providing a high-value resource that uses less energy to download.

Avoid the video autoplay function
Choice is important too. Give the visitor the option to play a video, so it only downloads once they hit the ‘play’ button.

Under construction

What goes on behind the scenes needs to consider energy consumption too. Website development involves coding the web pages and configuring the technology used to deliver them.

Coding

Writing clean and well-formatted code can help to reduce page weight. A page can be prepped to use images scaled for a particular device such as desktops and mobiles - this means images are only as large as they need to be.

Website plugins

Plugins offer additional functionality to websites, and they are easy to install on content management systems like WordPress, but they do have overheads. Use as few as possible.

Javascript

Javascript is the technology that adds interactivity to the web - anything that moves, refreshes or changes on your screen without requiring you to reload a page. Think animated graphics, photo slideshows and interactive forms.

Of course, there are energy implications. All Javascript actions are resource hungry. There are alternatives to Javascript, but before seeking alternatives, it’s worth asking if the interactivity it provides is necessary.

Content management systems (CMS)

Using a CMS to keep your website updated requires more energy than a ‘static’ website. However, sufficient planning and optimisation will reduce energy use.

A modern CMS should have the ability to automatically resize images that have been uploaded by website admins, for instance, to blog or news page. Auto resizing will reduce large images, saving energy through quicker download time.

Going the extra mile to reduce impact

Web hosting

Many of the data centres that store and deliver websites run on sustainable energy. Look for details on your current web host, and consider switching to a greener supplier.

Social media

When adding links to posts, make them a one-click stop away. Direct visitors to the exact page you want them to end up on, rather than your main home page. This avoids extra clicks and page downloads. Tools such as LinkTree can provide a list of relevant links for Instagram within your bio.

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

Investing in SEO can help reduce your website’s carbon footprint by targeting quality visitors. It’s about getting them to the most relevant page they are looking for, and doing it quickly.

Page redirects

If a page address has changed due to a website redesign, make sure the old URL is redirected to a new one. It will avoid unnecessary clicks, while visitors re-search.

Site maps

A site map is a page of data that displays all of the page links on your website. It helps search engines understand the structure of a site, and displays links to the most relevant pages under the main search result listing. These page links are effectively shortcuts and provide a quick route to ‘common’ pages that visitors might be seeking.

Small steps, big changes

You may feel that your website is too small to make a difference in minimising carbon emissions. But every change makes a difference.

Are you interested in finding out how your website is impacting the planet? Discover your website’s carbon footprint: websitecarbon.com.

If you have any questions about minimising the carbon footprint of your website, please get in touch.


Thanks to Footprint Digital and Wholegrain Digital whose work inspired this article.

Camilla Sharman

Written by
Andrew Sharman

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