What’s the Environmental Impact of Your Website?

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The web was once commonly thought to be a “green” platform. That makes sense, given the times. Electronic documents weren’t as popular. Using a website could save lots of printer paper and ink.

Yes, websites often eliminate the need for physical copies of documents. But there was much we didn’t consider in those days.

We didn’t think about massive server farms and the electricity required to run them. Nor did we consider the resources needed to load every image, video, and passage of text in a browser. And what about the costs associated with creating content?

Websites have an impact on our environment. Every site is an offender to some degree. The good news is that we can always do better.

Let’s examine the relationship between the web and the planet. Along the way, we’ll show you how to measure your website’s impact. And we’ll offer tips for reducing its carbon footprint.



The Importance of Sustainable Web Design

Web design is a multifaceted process. We create beautiful user interfaces. But there are other areas of focus. Websites also need to be usable and accessible.

We should now add sustainability to the equation. The world has moved online. Power consumption continues to grow. Thus, it’s worth considering how our decisions impact the environment.

Sustainable web design may sound scary – like it will require drastic measures. Eliminating the use of images due to their carbon footprint, for example. However, it may be more familiar than we think.

Sustainability and performance can go hand-in-hand. Performant practices can also be a win for the planet. It stands to reason that a page that loads quickly will also require fewer resources.

There are areas where the two may diverge, though. Web hosting is a prime example. Using a beefed-up server benefits performance. But that also comes with higher energy usage.

The path to being gentler on Mother Earth isn’t always a straight line. Doing right by your clients and the environment takes careful thought. Web designers must now view these processes through a different lens.

Perhaps you’re now wondering about your website’s environmental impact. So, how can you measure it?

Several web applications are available to help. We’ll choose Website Carbon Calculator for our example. The service has developed a methodology for calculating a site’s carbon footprint.

It measures the amount of site data, energy source, and related metrics. From there, you’ll receive a score based on this formula.

Enter your URL into the calculator and see where your website ranks. The results offer usage examples based on the number of monthly pageviews.

For instance, you’ll see how many trees it takes to absorb the carbon from your website. Or how far an electric vehicle can travel on the energy used. You can change the monthly pageviews to see how it impacts the resources required.

The numbers provided may not be exact. It does offer a glimpse of how eco-friendly your website is (or isn’t), though. You’ll have a better idea if you’re on the right path.

Use the Web Carbon Calculator to see your website's carbon footprint.

We hope your website scored well! If not, that’s OK. That means there is plenty of room for improvement. And you’ll find quite a few places to look.

Here are a few ways you can reduce your website’s carbon footprint.

Use an Environmentally Friendly Web Host

No two web hosts are the same. And that includes their sustainability policies.

Website Carbon Calculator takes this into account when testing your website. You receive a higher score if your host uses “green” energy or carbon offsets. For reference, you can find this data on The Green Web Directory.

Yes, changing hosts can be a pain. However, switching to an environmentally conscious provider might be worth it. You’ll be rewarding them for their efforts. And it’s something you can promote to clients.

Clean Up Your CSS & JavaScript

Websites can become bloated with CSS and JavaScript. Unused styles and scripts eat up precious resources. They’ll slow you down and place an extra strain on your server.

Here’s where performance and sustainability intersect. Loading only the necessary items improves both areas.

Your browser’s developer tools can help. They’ll allow you to assess each page load. From there, you can eliminate anything that isn’t needed.

Optimize Your Site’s Media

Your site’s images, audio, and video are ripe for optimization. And a little effort here can go a long way.

Make sure to use the latest codecs and formats. For example, WebP images can save space while maintaining quality.

It may not seem like much on a per-file basis. But saving a few kilobytes (KB) here and there adds up. You’ll use less bandwidth, less energy, and increase performance.

You might also consider efficiencies like content delivery networks (CDN). Or by hosting your videos on a service like Vimeo or YouTube. These providers fine-tune their servers for specific tasks. All while removing the burden from your web host.

Inspect Your Custom Code

Inefficient code can be costly. It may result in extra hits to your site’s database. Or require more CPU cycles to run. You could also chew up your server’s available memory.

All of this leads to more power consumption. The good news is that there are opportunities to trim the fat.

Spend some time reviewing any code you’ve written. Ensure that it runs as needed and that it does so efficiently. Run performance tests to gauge the effectiveness of your changes.

Third-party code might also be an issue. WordPress plugins can be a culprit. Use software that is actively maintained and supported. Remove or replace anything that’s hurting performance.

Get a Handle on Bot Traffic

Bots from search engines and other services visit your site often. Perhaps more than you might imagine. And that’s not counting the many brute-force attempts from malicious actors.

However, most websites don’t benefit from frequent bot traffic. It’s likely overkill unless your content is frequently updated.

All of this adds up to more carbon emissions. But it’s possible to keep these bots at bay.

WordPress users can turn to the Yoast SEO plugin. Its crawl optimization features allow you to reduce bot traffic. It’s an easy way to turn off features that you aren’t using.

There are other options. A CDN can help you limit bot traffic. Use security apps to ban hackers. And you can still use a robots.txt file to create custom indexing rules.

Some web hosts use renewable energy.

Small Steps to Creating a Greener Web

Every website we build has a carbon footprint. The worst offenders tend to be outdated websites and those with sloppy code. However, using modern best practices can make a world of difference.

Going further, consider the environmental cost of your design decisions. That means you’ll be building a greener website from the start.

You’ll not only reduce the emissions produced by your site. You might also save some money and improve the user experience.

So, take a moment to measure your site’s environmental impact. Then, look for areas of improvement. The steps you take will benefit everyone.


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