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Can Website Design Be Green?

There are lots of things that we care about. We love our families. We love innovative website design. We love local charities in Exeter. We love pizza.

We also happen to be big fans of the environment.

Written By
Dan Partridge

It came as something of a shock then for us to hear that the internet has a carbon footprint of 830 million tons of CO2, which is more than the entire aviation industry. As the story at Science Daily put it, this is primarily caused by:

“…the data traffic, energy use and CO2 production in networks and other elements of the ICT industry.”

In his superb article Sustainable Web Design, James Christie outlines the reasons behind the internet’s carbon footprint and suggests ways in which the website design industry can address this issue. As web designers, this is very much of interest to us. If you’re environmentally-minded and interested in sustainable business then this should encourage you to think about the ethical implications of website design.

It takes energy to transfer data. Every time we access a website, watch a video on YouTube or download an album from iTunes we’re downloading data. Christie cites a paper which suggests that it takes 13kwh to transfer 1GB of data. In other words, every time you access the internet your actions have an environmental impact. The impact is multiplied if you’re browsing via a mobile connection on 3G/4G.

Christie eloquently explains how this is affecting CO2 emissions:

“Based on these figures, we can estimate that a site the size of Tumblr, with 183 million pageviews per day and approximately 10 percent of those from mobile, has the potential to be responsible for a staggering 2,600 tons of CO2 daily.”

We’ve written before about the benefits of lean website design – “Skinny Ties, Skinny Jeans and Skinny Web Design” – but we hadn’t factored in the environmental impact of reducing web page size. It has to be said that if you can make this change to your website design which will both connect with more mobile customers and reduce your carbon footprint then the decision is a no-brainer.

There are multiple ways in which we can reduce the size of a web page.

We can reduce the amount of content. Images, for example, can be made responsive. We can employ a more minimalistic style of website design which leaves a bigger impact and a lighter footprint.

We can optimize the number of queries, fix broken links and improve the navigation through the site so that it is as efficient as possible. There are numerous tools available which help us identify ways in which we can speed up a site.

Christie also suggests two further possibilities for the environment-conscious website design client. These are to sign up to a green hosting provider which uses sustainable sources of energy. The other is to estimate the carbon footprint of your website and offset these emissions.

We’re grateful for this insight and will be looking to play our part in creating sustainable, efficient and environmentally-friendly websites for our clients.

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