We tend to view the Internet as something pure and immaterial. Unlike a car, which releases gas through its pipe, the environmental effect of the Internet is hard to visualize. Its carbon impact is mostly caused by the energy needed to maintain its infrastructure. Every website requires electricity to operate, which emits carbon and has an environmental impact. This leads to growing global power consumption and the digital carbon footprint. However, we can contribute to reducing carbon emissions with sustainable web development.

Greening the Web

Global IT sector electricity demand ranks behind only two countries in the world – China and the US. This results in a significant amount of global carbon footprint. According to estimates, the number of greenhouse emissions is similar to the amount produced by the airline industry globally. In contrast to many other businesses that are seeking efficiency and lowering carbon dioxide, emissions from the internet are expected to grow dramatically in the future years. This leads to the rapid need to reduce emissions from all industries.

Many businesses across the world have recognized the value of green websites and are constantly working to achieve or maintain carbon-neutral status, motivating others to follow in their footsteps. More and more IT companies (like Apple, Google, Microsoft) start committing to renewable energy and already see results. Anything we can do to lower emissions, no matter how tiny, is vital, and this includes how we use the net.

Why is there a need for zero-carbon websites? 

According to WHO, a carbon footprint is a measure of the impact your activities have on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced through the burning of fossil fuels. There can be no sustainability if there is an excessive carbon footprint.

Each action we do on the Internet has a little carbon impact. However, with roughly half of the world’s population (4.6 billion people) using the internet, the total impact may be rather significant. Green IT addresses some of the solutions that might transform many industries by integrating social responsibility, wise resource usage, and technological innovation. We could at least limit this rise if everyone reduced their website’s digital carbon footprints.

How is a website impacting the environment?

For every page visit, a regular website produces 1.76 grams of CO2. For websites with an average of 10,000 page views per month, this equates to 211 kilos of CO2 emissions each year. Websites use electricity in data centers, telecom networks, and end-user devices. Fortunately, it’s not a no-win situation. 

Sites that load quickly are better for users, better for search engines, and better for the environment since they take less amount of energy to load. There are several things you can to decrease a website’s digital carbon footprint that will be covered later in this article.

Can sustainable web design be worth the costs? 

For brands that offer environmentally friendly products and embrace sustainably, consumers have a soft spot. By investing in green, you’re not only helping to build a sustainable environment but also benefit from gaining consumer confidence, attracting fence-focused people to enter your business, and improving conversions. A choice of what we would want to acquire is also a choice about the world in which we wish to live.

Exploring digital carbon footprints

We have to first identify where much carbon emissions are to minimize them on our websites. It was very difficult to determine the amount of carbon until recently. As a result, web developers and website owners had a hard time discussing the issue of their website’s emissions of carbon. However, there’s a Carbon Footprint Calculator that’s a great example of checking the CO2 per page view generated on a website.

At Applover we managed to develop a website running on sustainable energy. Only 0.43g of CO2 is produced every time someone visits our web page. It’s the amount of carbon that 3 trees absorb in a year! You can read more about how did we design our website here.

The majority of the issues that increase the online carbon footprint of a new site are also issues that cause the site to load slowly. Naturally, not all websites are equal. Some require more effort than others. But you can make your website more energy-efficient and load faster for your visitors in several areas:

  • Data transfer – when a web page is loaded, the data is transmitted across the wire;
  • Design – the front-end is a visible part of the website that users can interact with;
  • Development – the back-end is a website’s code that operates behind the scenes;
  • Web hosting – the hardware and data center that your website is hosted on.

We can reduce greenhouse gas emissions through concrete and simple activities. It’s possible to create a strategy to optimize the performance of the new website in collaboration with the development team. After you calculate the amount of CO2 consumed, you can take some steps to reduce your website’s carbon footprint.

Reducing your website’s carbon emissions

As mentioned earlier, there are small improvements you can make with a new website that will make a significant difference in grams of CO2 per page. Data transmission is the key to this. At any stage of development – whether it is designing, coding, or content creation – there can be taken steps to reduce energy consumption. The following strategies are crucial to adopt for a low carbon footprint.

1. Choose a green host

This is one of the most important changes you may do. Careful web hosting provider selection can have a significant influence on energy efficiency and web page performance. Green web hosting is still in its early stages, and different firms assess it in various ways. Yet, there are on the market renewable energy-driven web hosts. By picking the server machines yourself and enhancing them, you can additionally minimize the carbon footprint of your website.

2. Optimize the website’s performance

Website speed improvement should always be a primary concern, especially with so much online competition. Several elements might impact how long it takes each page on your site to load, therefore there are numerous actions you can do to enhance your performance and user experience:

  • Caching solution – caching implies temporarily storing a duplicate of a website’s original content (static resources) on the user’s device. This greatly decreases server energy usage and improves page load times;
  • Lazy loading – load only the needed resources at the time and delaying the remainder till the user requests. It’s an optimization method for minimizing data use;
  • AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) – provides an original webpage with a minimalist, stripped-down mobile version. This technology makes mobile content load quicker by removing unnecessary code and file size; 
  • Lightweight fonts – decrease custom and personalized fonts which often add up to overall page size. The interesting alternative could be system or web-safe fonts.

3. Optimize the website’s multimedia content

Users have become highly visual these days. Adding multimedia to your website or blog is a good approach to gain more visitors and increase time spent on your site. However, it’s crucial to always ensure that your image size is optimized and loads more effectively:

  • Vector graphics – utilize CSS and vector graphics to create an experience with considerably lower resources than standard pictures like JPEGs or PNGs;
  • Compressing images – reduce file sizes of images on your size without proportion changes. It’s recommended to use lossy compression (bigger reduction with little loss in quality) for most sites;
  • Reduce video – decrease the amount of video on your site if you can, or make the material shorter. It places a significantly larger demand on the user’s CPU.
  • No auto-play – the users will start the video if it’s in their interest. Additionally, auto-play might be annoying and decrease user experience. Avoiding this is better.

4. Keep code clean

Tidy and simplified code is a good thing in general. By creating efficient queries and using the right existing frameworks and libraries, we can efficiently provide the features you want. Another good practice for reducing carbon dioxide equivalent is to use less JavaScript, as it adds extra weight to the web and increases the amount of processing. When using a CMS (Content Management System, i.e. WordPress), remove unnecessary plugins that only make the site heavier. The topic of WordPress improvements is covered largely in the blog post on how to optimize it with free tools.

5. Improve your SEO

Although SEO may appear to have nothing to do with website efficiency, it’s closely tied to lower energy usage. Better internet search results can lead to cutting bounce rates and reducing visits to the pages that don’t fit your user’s demands. Copywriting, just like search engine optimization, also influences website efficiency. For more information, read 9 SEO tips for your new website.

6. Reduce tracking and advertising script

Tracking and advertising scripts hardly provide any benefit to the user and typically can significantly increase file sizes or slow websites down. Moreover, trackers can cause loading the page even twice as long. By decreasing monitoring scripts, which data often invade user’s privacy, you could also reduce annual CO2. 

7. Consider a PWA solution

Progressive Web Application (PWA) is a web-based application built to run on any platform, including desktop and mobile devices. The main advantage of this solution is that it can cache files on the user’s device. This can dramatically minimize the amount of data loaded. Many companies decided to develop a PWA. You can explore the topic further with the best examples of PWA apps.


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Next steps for web sustainability

Anything we can do to reduce website carbon footprint and implement a green energy approach will also help an average website to be better in other ways. If we collectively take these activities, we might be able to revolutionize our industry. In the end, a carbon-neutral website is a win-win situation for everyone.