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5 Ways To Reduce Your Website’s Digital Carbon Footprint

Written by Fransisca Smith

The climate crisis is a pressing global issue, impacting our health, environment and communities. The scientific community continues to bring to light the impact of our actions and how our carbon footprint can exacerbate climate change. For a paperless, modern industry it can be easy to forget the impact of websites on a business’s carbon footprint – and the exponential growth of online activities has often been overlooked as a significant contributor. 

According to Website Carbon, “The internet consumes a lot of electricity. 416.2TWh per year to be precise. To give you some perspective, that’s more than the entire United Kingdom.” In this article, we’ll discuss some practical steps to reducing your digital carbon footprint to strive for a more sustainable online future.

What is a digital carbon footprint?

A digital carbon footprint refers to the environmental impact of our online activities, which includes data storage, energy consumption associated with the use of digital products, and data transfers. Website Carbon has designed a tool to calculate your website’s digital carbon footprint and provides useful examples of sustainable web design.

Websites and digital platforms play a significant role in contributing to the global digital carbon footprint, but they are an essential part of an organisation’s online presence. Without removing a website entirely, there are practical ways to lessen the carbon impact a website has, which we break down in this article.

Plant growing out of a laptop

1. Optimise Website Performance

A primary contributor to a website’s carbon footprint is its performance. Large websites that host large files such as images and videos can significantly increase website loading times and energy consumption. Optimising website performance enhances the user experience but also reduces its carbon footprint. To optimise your website, you should look at:

Reducing file size 

Compress images and video content without compromising quality to reduce file sizes. Converting images into next-gen formats, such as WebP, compresses images and preserves quality making it the ideal format for images on the web. Several plugins can help you do this with ease, such as Smush or Imagify.

Browser Caching 

Use browser caching to download and store files locally so that when users reload the site, the web page will load faster. Doing this reduces energy consumption, and increases the performance of your website. 

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)

Using Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) distributes your website content across multiple servers globally, reducing the energy required for data transmission, and improving load times. This means that when a user accesses your site in Asia, for example, the data is downloaded from an Asian server.

2. Choose Green Web Hosting

Light bulb in a leaf brainstorming sustainability

Opting for an eco-friendly web hosting provider can significantly lower your digital carbon footprint. Green web hosting platforms use renewable energy sources and incorporate energy-efficient processes to power their data centres. Popular green web hosting providers include GreenGeeks and DreamHost, but there are a variety of providers that offer different green initiatives, and it’s important to choose one that aligns with your brand’s values, hosting & security requirements, and broader business goals.

3. Implement Sustainable Design Practices

Website design can significantly impact its energy consumption. Sustainable design practices contribute to a reduced carbon footprint and improve the overall user experience. Sustainable web design practices include:

User-focused UX

Understanding your users and their goals is key to website success and it can also impact your site’s carbon footprint. Designing a site that is clutter-free and catered to users and their journeys, helps visitors reach their website goals faster and more effectively, reducing the number of requests placed to your servers.

Dark Mode 

Dark backgrounds use less energy than the traditional white background – as a user’s screen will not have to use its full brightness to display the site. Offering a dark mode option for your website can reduce your digital carbon footprint. However, it’s important to balance this with accessibility requirements. For example, it’s essential to ensure that light text on dark backgrounds meets contrast requirements or you risk poor accessibility and readability for your users. 

Efficient Code 

Clean and efficient code can significantly reduce your site’s carbon footprint by reducing the amount of energy required to run it. Remove or minify unnecessary code, and unused scripts to minimise server load and improve performance. 

Responsive Design 

Ensuring your website is responsive will reduce unnecessary energy consumption when accessed via mobile devices and differing screen types.

4. Energy-saving Mode

A growing trend in website sustainability is offering an ‘energy-saving mode’. Visitors have the option to toggle on or off the mode to reduce the impact of their visit. When turned on, some brands have opted to reduce carbon impact by muting colour palettes, using a dark mode, and reducing the use of images. 

An example of this is Organic Basics, an e-commerce website that offers its visitors the option of lowering their carbon impact by shopping on its low-impact website. The low-impact site is much simpler and uses almost no imagery (opting for illustrations), claiming a 7.56% reduction of data compared to its main site.    

However, it’s important that these modes are genuinely carbon-saving rather than ‘green-washing’. Certain cases – including the COP28 website itself – have been found where such an energy-saving mode is purely symbolic, and does sometimes nothing to reduce the carbon consumption of a website. Also, if this mode is not turned on by default, then the resources have already been downloaded before a user selects it – meaning that in fact, it has a higher carbon impact to have an energy-saving mode than to not.

5. Regularly Audit and Optimize

A key method of reducing your digital carbon footprint is to regularly audit and optimise your website. Keeping up-to-date with the latest advancements in sustainable technology and platforms, hosting providers, and design practices can help you make a consistent difference. With sustainability being at the forefront of many consumers’ minds – and particularly for millennials and Gen-Z, it’s important that your brand’s digital identity and overall impact reflect this. 

Reducing the digital carbon footprint of a website is not only an ethical choice, but if done correctly, it can also improve the site’s overall experience and performance. As a creative digital agency, Crucible specialises in designing and developing sector-leading websites that resonate with your audiences – and are effective for reducing your digital carbon footprint. For advice or support, feel free to get in touch with the Crucible team!

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