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Eight ways to improve the environmental impact of your website

  • By 3chillies

The climate crisis impacts everybody. While coordinated international action is arguably too slow and inadequate, many businesses are at least actively reducing their carbon emissions and have pledged to meet net zero targets by a particular target date. Going forwards the environmental impact of everything a business does – including digital projects – will come under more and more scrutiny.

Every website causes carbon emissions – any interaction, however small, ultimately means electricity is being used. While websites and digital environments can play a part in reducing the need for travel and for printing on paper, any site will impact your carbon footprint.

More of our clients are asking us what they can do to reduce the carbon emissions of their current website or for the one that we are building for them. It’s something we’re increasingly having to consider when we plan a project, and at some stage in the future it will likely become standard practice. However, the good news is there are quite a few straightforward things that can be done to reduce carbon emissions and most of these also improve usability and can even cut your costs.

In this post, we explore eight ways to improve the environmental impact of your website.

  1. Calculate your current emissions
  2. The starting point for any effort to reduce your carbon emissions is to work out the current footprint for your site. By measuring this you can then take action to try and reduce it and then measure again to track progress.

    Working out your carbon footprint is still a bit of inexact science but there are a lot of free carbon calculators available on the internet that you can use to get a guestimate. You can also try several of them to get a consensus on a figure.

  3. Use greener hosting
  4. Data centres come with a significant level of carbon emissions. Thankfully some data centres are working to reduce their carbon footprint and becoming more sustainable, for example ensuring they are powered by renewable energy. You can help by choosing to website hosting that only utilizes greener data centres. The good news is that both AWS and Microsoft (Azure) have committed to ensuring that their data centers are powered by renewable energy by 2025, so your hosting may already be on that path.

  5. Rightsize your environment
  6. The data demands on your website can vary dramatically over a 24-hour period – for example you may get significantly less visitors during the day. During those quieter times your environment may actually be using far more capacity than you need, both resulting in unnecessary costs but also an unnecessary environmental impact.

    Rightsizing your environment is a set of processes that means changing its capacity to meet patterns of demand – usually reducing its size at night and increasing it during the day. We recently worked with a client to right size their Azure environment that has not only saved significant costs but also lessened its environmental impact.

  7. Use a CDN and enable caching
  8. When a person visits your website, data is transferred from a server in order for them to view it. Each transfer of data causes carbon emissions so anything you can do to reduce the amount of data transferred can help.

    Over time, enabling caching and using a global Content Delivery Network (CDN) solution such as Cloudflare can significantly reduce the amount of data that is transferred and the distance that the data has to travel, especially relating to images and media assets. This should also have a positive impact on performance with page load times.

  9. Reduce asset file sizes and avoid autoplaying videos
  10. Another tactic that helps to reduce the amount of data transferred and therefore your carbon footprint is to reduce the file size of assets including images and PDF documents. This will also support better page load times.

    A related tactic is to make sure that video assets do not automatically play when a visitor reaches a page. Not only is this annoying for many users, but collectively over a year it could cause significant carbon emissions as videos keep on running regardless of user interest or need. For example, if a user has their sound down, they may not even realise a video is playing.

  11. Consider carbon offsetting
  12. One way to balance out the negative impact of a website or digital project is to offset the carbon emissions it produces. There are plenty of organisations that can help facilitate this, usually through tree planting schemes or investing in other climate reduction projects. One thing to note is that carbon offsetting should not then give an organisation carte blanche to increase the negative environmental impact of their website. You should still commit to some of the other ideas in this post.

  13. Recycle your hardware and reduce e-waste
  14. While not specifically a way to reduce you’re the carbon emissions of your site, consider all the hardware that you use in the creation of and the maintenance of your website and its content. Old hardware such as laptops and mobile devices is known as e-waste and causes damage to the environment on several different fronts; according to the WHO over 50 million tonnes ewaste were collected in 2019, but less that 20% was recycled. Consider recycling your devices to reduce e-waste; again, there are multiple providers who can help with this.

  15. Check the green credentials of your CMS provider
  16. Another way your website you can have a more positive environmental impact is to make sure you use a CMS or DXP provider who has good green credentials and is doing their best to reduce their own carbon emissions. For example, Umbraco recently published a detailed report on its Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) impact which amongst other things gives a clearer picture of their environmental goals and the progress made.

Reducing your impact

Reducing your environmental impact and carbon emissions is going to get more and more important. If you’d like to discuss how you can make your website greener and reduce your carbon emissions then get in touch!

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