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10 ways to reduce your website’s carbon impact | Based on Izzi Smith’s ‘Website Sustainability: Knowing the impact and taking action’

July 7, 2022

The internet might seem like an intangible ethereal space but the truth is it’s a physical network which consumes a huge amount of power. At pre-pandemic levels internet usage accounted for 3.7% of global emissions. If that figure sounds small, it isn’t – it’s the same amount as the aviation industry and that figure is set to double over the next couple of years.

Website sustainability company Ryte‘s, Izzi Smith joined us at Turing Festival last year to highlight the importance of knowing your website’s carbon impact, and how you can take action to improve it.

Izzi explained that improving your website’s carbon emissions is also good for business. Sustainable websites mean improved user experience and decreased page load times which reduces website churn and means more conversions. In order to get to the point where you have an efficient website, you need to first understand the impact, which is where a website carbon calculator, like Ryte’s among others, can be incredibly useful. Once you understand the impact your domain makes, it’s important you take action in changing infrastructure, design and marketing activities, and that you maintain your lightweight, speedy website.

Here are 10 actions you can take to improve your website’s carbon emissions:

1. Switch to a green hosting provider

Data centres consume vast amounts of energy to power themselves, as well as their cooling systems, and diesel powered backup generators. There are increasingly accessible green data centres out there though, Google being the most obvious carbon neutral choice. These use green energy from renewable sources, as well as offsetting any fossil fuel powered services. Google is actually pushing to provide carbon free services by 2030.

2. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Izzi explained CDNs are one of the best optimisations you can make to your web experience as well as for your green credentials. Traditional servers send the information directly to the users from its location, this requires more energy and leads to slower loading websites as the information has to travel a longer geographical distance. By using a CDN the website information is cached in locations all around the world, this can then be served to the user in a much faster, more energy efficient way.

3. Compress and minimise files

In a world where the aim is to increase the speed at which we can transfer data, minimising file sizes will greatly increase the speed at which you can share information, as well as reducing the energy involved in making the transfer. According to the HTTP Archive, in the past 5 years web page sizes have increased by 40%. This means a greater amount of energy being used by the end device (user’s mobile or computer) to load each page. Javascript files are also 46% higher than in 2017, and in many cases only some of these Javascript files are actually being used. The remedy is to use a platform like Chrome Dev and find and remove all the Javascript files you aren’t using. You can also bundle files together, optimise fonts, and remove tracking scripts to create a leaner smoother site.

4. Cut out unnecessary pages

While having lots of searchable pages can equate to better rankings from an SEO point of view, it also means websites are getting bigger and bigger. Izzi showed one example from a client of hers, who’s website had increased by 44% year on year. The truth is that while more pages can mean appearing in more searches, it also leads to cannibalization where you have two or more pages fighting for the same keyword and therefore being less effective than one overarching page. So merging pages can be effective in reducing the size of the site and making it more streamlined. Reviewing page performance is also important, if you can see pages that aren’t getting any traffic it’s not relevant and means you can kick it out for good.

5. Reduce video and audio

This isn’t possible for everyone but providing transcriptions of video or audio content, or making sure the embedded video remains as a thumbnail so that people have the option of playing it will reduce the pressure your site puts on servers. Giving a user the option to engage with content and not automatically requesting this data can improve your site performance as well as the pressure your site puts on servers. It can also improve UX as it’s the user’s choice to consume content rather than forcing them to watch it.

6. Optimise site navigation

Having an easily navigable site is something companies pay a lot more attention to, it leads to more conversions, it’s a better shop window to your brand, and it means that users will follow the flow to the end point without needlessly clicking on distracting links and buttons. Importantly it means less pressure on the end device for energy and on servers for loading speeds.

7. Update mailing lists

Email is an essential part of marketing and operations but also an incredibly carbon intensive activity. Making sure the right people are getting your comms, not just the most people, can mean a higher conversion rate on opens and click throughs as well as a less carbon emissions. It can help to regularly assess email performance and to update your lists to keep it relevant to the right people.

8. Use a Progressive Web App (PWA)

A PWA is an application built on the web rather than native to a particular server. The central benefit of PWAs are that they’re faster, they cache everything and they’re significantly smaller. The most famous example of a company migrating to the PWA format is Twitter after finding that a test run with Twitter Lite meant the PWA version consumed 2-3% of the energy the native version used. As a result they migrated the whole of Twitter over to a PWA version. It reduces energy costs and runs more quickly.

9. Create a dark mode view

The increasing trend towards a dark mode view means less energy being used by the end device when browsing. It’s also often a preference that gets requested by users for companies and brands who’s site they spend a lot of time on. Some phones permanently have this setting on, so a site that’s consistent with the rest of the UX on other sites and apps, can improve user’s view of your products.

10. Raise awareness

An important part of Izzi’s mission is to spread awareness by talking at events like Turing Festival. It’s a relatively new topic of discussion despite the internet being around for several decades. We can all spread awareness and create a focus on efficiency, not just energy efficiency, but also the speed and quality of the products we offer. There are multiple ways you, as a company, can spread the word, whether it’s displaying a badge on your site to show your green credentials or sharing and championing successes you’ve had in improving your carbon footprint. Having environmental KPIs that your report on regularly can also really help guide the focus of everyone in the business.

Learn more about growing sustainably at Turing Fest 2022

Creating an environmentally sound business plan is important not only for the earth but also for your own efficiency as a business. By ensuring you have clear KPIs to work towards being carbon free, you create a common measurable goal for the wider team. It applies to everyone at the company whether you’re in ops or marketing or HR.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how you can grow your business sustainably by learning from industry leaders then book your ticket to our 2022 festival here.

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