Sustainability is at the forefront of every responsible organisation’s mind, but many won’t have ever considered the environmental impact of their website.
The greatest invention in modern times is undoubtedly the internet, which at first glance doesn’t seem like it could have a negative effect on the environment. Sadly, however, the world wide web is contributing to the environmental crisis and this is only increasing – the virtual world is having real-world consequences.
In fact, research has shown if the internet was an actual country, it would be the sixth-largest polluting in the world.
So, what are the positive steps businesses can take to review their website, assess its sustainability score and make it “greener”?
You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so the most important first step to a greener website is to find out just how environmentally friendly it is. This can be difficult to measure as the concept of the ‘green web’ is fairly new and there is no easily applicable scale, but clues including loading speeds, CPU usage and data transfer can reveal how much energy is being used when a user lands on your website.
Using tools such as the Website Carbon Calculator can help kickstart your journey towards a greener dot com. This tool can test your website’s energy usage and it makes direct comparisons of its energy consumption to real-world examples, helping to put things into perspective.
Helpfully, the tool suggests simple changes that you can introduce to your website to lessen the energy consumption need to navigate it. Finding a green website hosting company, making your website more efficient and planting trees to offset its impact to name but a few.
Life is full of chain reactions and the world of business is not exempt from this. There is only so much you can do as an individual business, but you can make decisions about who you work with and find out their position on sustainability.
For all you know, the partners you work with to set up and run your website could lack an environmental strategy themselves, potentially undoing the efforts you’re making as a business to be greener. Always do your research before agreeing to work with a service provider or supplier and don’t always go with the cheapest.
The Green Web Foundation Directory is a great resource that lists the green hosting providers by country, so you can examine your choices and find potential like-minded partners. Many are now running (in full or in part) their datacentres from renewable energy.
User experience and good design are central to the success of any business website.
However, when it comes to sustainability, it’s important to take a less is more approach and interrogate every design and development decision – What does this add? Are you receiving information from it? Is this really benefitting the user?
Poor design and development decisions can have a huge knock-on effect on how much energy your website consumes as users land on and navigate around your site. The more time a user spends on your website and the number of steps it takes them to complete a task, the more energy is consumed.
While images and videos can be a great tool for informing users about your business and keeping users engaged, they’re data-intensive and energy-sapping. Video is by far the worst offender when it comes to the amount of data downloaded to view the content, so think about how you could communicate the message in a different way. Automatic pop-ups also increase loading time, so avoid these if possible.
Make careful decisions on your web fonts, too. This is an easy change to implement that could make a stark difference. A larger font file could be eating up as much as 250kb and if you’re using bold, double that number.
Using less variations can make your site much greener, not to mention more visually consistent. Improve your site navigation, helping users to find what they’re looking for in minimal steps and page loads. A clear navigation bar on the homepage can speed up this process and reduce frustrations that will increase the chances of a user leaving your site.
Simplify your site coding where you can by stripping back. Unifying and optimising the site’s coding is ultimately going to be good for your usage, so avoid duplications, redirects and use clean, efficient queries.
Promote sustainability through messaging. Not all businesses can be environmental pioneers, but it’s important to make as many positive changes as you can, while also encouraging others to do so too. Always bear in mind the behaviour your website promotes and change your messaging and tools accordingly.
Innocent is a great example of a company who uses its voice (through social media presence and onsite copy) and web design to encourage consumers to make green choices. Giving your users helpful tips and hints while on your site, limiting printing or download functions and offering options for greener deliveries are a few small, simple ideas that can contribute to the bigger global effort.
Finally, shout about all the actions you’re taking to make your website and business more sustainable, either on the homepage or a dedicated sustainability section – don’t let all your hard work go unnoticed!