HOW DO WE CREATE A LOW CARBON WEBSITE?

Livia Harrison Sustainability Advisor | Nivo Digital | October 2021 | 10 min read

The effects of climate change are becoming more apparent, impacting every country and every hidden corner of our globe. We are being urged by countless organisations, including our government, to do our own low carbon deeds, no matter how little or big it may be. And so we do: we recycle, we work from home, we do our best in many other ways, but we tend to think that the web has nothing to do with our carbon footprint. In fact, it is clear that being online is an improvement to the good ol’ days of endless prints and business travel. While this is true, the internet also has a very real carbon footprint. The web is a giant energy consuming system, operating 24-7-365 from vast data centres around the world that store and process the data of our websites – and that data seems to be ever increasing! According to HTTPArchive.org, the average web page today is nearly four times the size that it was in 2010. Every time we load a web page approximately 6 grams of CO2e are emitted. “If the internet were a country, it would be the sixth most polluting country in the world, with annual emissions similar to those of Germany.” (Greenwood, 2021) There are certainly ways to get this number down, thoughtful design options and green hosts amongst many; and why not go for it? In the end, most of it is simply best practice with the design of a speedy, reliable website that gives the best user journey to all your visitors. Simply a page that you can be proud of.

Step 1: Choosing a Suitable Web Design Platform - or Otherwise: Content Management System

Web design has come a long way since the early, rigid programming languages of HTML. Nowadays there are countless user-friendly platforms that you can choose from. Amongst the most popular ones are WordPress, WiX, Weebly, Shopify, Joomla, Squarespace, AdobeDreamweaver, and the list carries on.

Choosing which platform is right for you is crucial, whether it be e-commerce, blogging or educational. It needs to be something that you can stick with for years to come, one that allows you to grow and develop.

When aiming for ‘green’, some crucial factors also come into play:
Whilst we have worked with a number of great platforms before, we found that WordPress is the one that satisfies all of the above criteria. WordPress is one of the most popular web design platforms, it is used by over 35% of all websites, including large enterprises like Toyota, Sony Music or The Walt Disney Company. Leading green websites, such as WholegrainDigital are also built on WordPress.

WordPress is far more flexible and adaptable than its competitors: it is an open source tool with virtually unlimited themes and features, making it possible to opt for a lightweight template with plugins that support a low carbon set up. In the meantime, with a bit of custom coding, templates can easily be modified to suit your business as it changes, grows and develops over time, without needing to start fresh. Other platforms, such as Squarespace, are not open source and are much more limited in terms of their features and functionality. Another very important feature of WordPress is that you can easily move your data to another Content Management System (CMS) or hosting, which is not possible with platforms such as WiX, Weebly or Squarespace.

As hosting is the most energy demanding part of a website, it is crucial to use a host that operates on low carbon energy. Several platforms have hosting included within their package. Although they make life easier, their hosts more often than not, cannot verify to use renewable energy sources. When using WordPress you can choose a certified green host that best serves your needs (note, in this article we talk about WordPress’ self-hosted version, not WordPress.com).

Step 2: Finding A Green Host

Data centres, no matter how technically advanced, are still by far the biggest contributors to your website’s carbon footprint. Servers are consuming electricity 24/7, all year around. In addition to this, server rooms need constant cooling to keep the soaring temperatures under control. Choosing a host that runs on low carbon energy is thus crucial in making your way to a low carbon existence.

However, as you have probably already suspected, it is not as simple as it sounds. There are different ways of claiming to be green, and not all claims are equal. When choosing an all round, reliably green host to work with, these are the points to consider:
The Green Web Foundation’s database is always a great place to start the search for green hosts. The shortlisted hosts should be those that also meet the additional criteria below:

Although we are not specifically endorsing any hosts specifically, we found that Krystal was one that suited all our needs and we started our green journey with them.

Step 3: Getting The Design And Content Right

The design and content of a website, also contribute towards its carbon footprint, so getting it right will impact on how green you are. When it comes to the design and content, the two things to keep in mind are data transfer and page weight; minimising these will reduce the energy used whilst visiting a website and in return reduce the carbon associated with it.

Achieving success at this stage of the website building process requires innovative and knowledgeable individuals drawing up creative solutions that suit both your company image and your customer’s needs. Creating a well thought through site architecture, or otherwise user journey will enable your site visitors to find what they are after with as few clicks as possible. This in turn reduces the number of times your site loads, whilst also improving user experience. We use technologies such as wireframing to configure the structure best suited for your product.

Clear and efficient messaging and copywriting reduces wasted time wading through content that offers little or no value to your customers, and at the same time optimises your website for search engine rankings (SEO).

When it comes to the look of your website, there are some key points we keep in mind to minimise page weight.

Step 4: Rethinking Plugins And Coding

When creating a website it is important to avoid bloated libraries and plugins that won’t ever get used. Plugins are an important part of a website and can often improve the user journey, it is however easy to go overboard, especially when there are so many out there. Minimising plugins is the green way forward.

Coding can also get you important website functions. WordPress, our preferred CMS, allows the use of JavaScript, which is considered to be an efficient programming language. That being said, JavaScript impacts site efficiency by adding file weight to the web page and by increasing the amount of processing required by the users’ device. Therefore where possible coding is avoided, and other times substituted with lighter options.

Step 5: Final Touch Of Website Optimisation

One of the final stages of creating a website is optimisations. Here we thoroughly test the site to ensure that it is as efficient as it can be.Using the Ecograder and Web Carbon Calculator, we target lower carbon results than other comparable websites. We aim to score grade A onGTMetrix, a high score on Google’s PageSpeed Insights and low CPU usage as measured by the Energy Impact Monitor.

At this stage we ensure that the site is as compressed and optimised as it can be; we further reduce HTTP requests with tools such as CSS Sprites, and set up the right cashing.

Once all is done, another great green website is ready to launch!

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