The most eco-friendly website is one that doesn’t load at all. But as eco-conscious businesses operating in a digital world, having an online presence is vital for getting our message out there and connecting with the people who can help us do good things in the world. So how can we have a website while minimising our impact on the environment?
At Root Web Design Studio, we build sustainable websites for ethical businesses, and these are just some of our tips for making your website more eco-friendly…
Table of contents
Low-carbon web development
At the heart of a low-carbon website design is an efficient, high quality build.
Prioritise load speed
Slow-loading and bulky websites are responsible for a huge amount of the internet’s carbon emissions. The bigger the website, the longer it takes to load. The longer it takes to load, the more energy it uses. And the more energy it uses, the more CO2 it generates.
An ethical web developer will focus on optimising a website for speed, and that will mean being mindful of everything that causes a website to load slowly, such as:
- Too many files (including images, fonts, videos and stylesheets)
- Too many plug-ins
- Third-party tools like social media feeds, adverts and external review widgets
- Files being too big
- Poor hosting
Minimise tracking scripts
Tracking users and collecting their data emits a huge amount of CO2, not just because of the size of the scripts themselves but because of the energy it takes to process and store the data. More than that, tracking and advertising scripts can lead to an unpleasant user experience and can be a violation of user privacy.
An ethical web developer will only use scripts that are necessary, efficient, respect user privacy, and always offer an opt-out.
Write clean code
Unnecessary, duplicated, inefficient and untidy code can add unnecessary bulk to a website, which slows down its loading and increases its carbon footprint. Keeping code clean, simple and streamlined, with efficient queries, is good practice, as well as being better for the environment. Minifying code (removing unnecessary and unwanted characters) can help to shave off further kilobytes of file size.
Websites are becoming more bloated, and a major reason for this is the one-size-fits-all coding being used in the development stage. A lot of websites are running code for functionality they don’t need, adding unnecessary size and weight and increasing their carbon output. Using modular frameworks, and being more thoughtful and purposeful about which parts to include, ensures file sizes are kept to a minimum, page speeds are faster, and carbon impact is reduced.
Optimising web apps
Web applications are growing in scope, ambition and functionality. This is great news for users, who can access everything they want to, track every aspect of their lives and monitor whatever they want to monitor. The problem with web apps is that the amount of data they need to download is increasing, and this is having a knock-on effect on energy use. An ethical developer will optimise for size, speed and performance of every byte being used.
Designing websites for sustainability
In order to develop low-carbon websites they first need to be designed that way that will accommodate an efficient build.
Reduce the amount of images
Images are responsible for a huge proportion of the extra bulk we’re seeing in websites these days. We’re being told users have little time and attention for reading, so in many cases we are populating our websites with unnecessary images with no specific strategy or purpose. Ask yourself if the image genuinely adds value to the user. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. Using as few images as possible on your website will reduce its size, speed up page load and reduce the amount of CO2 being generated.
Image size and format
For those images that are necessary, compressing and right-sizing them will mean they load in the shortest time possible. Save images in the most efficient format (photos as .jpg, graphics on transparent backgrounds as .png and icons as .svg) and run them through a compression tool like tinyPNG or SVGOMG, and you’ll instantly have a more eco-friendly website.
Video is increasingly common across websites in all industries, and it is by far the most data intensive form of content. Again, ask yourself if each video you want to include adds value for your visitors. Could you use some quick-glance bullet points to say the same thing? If so, do that. If a particular video is necessary, try and keep it short, compress the file using a tool like HandBrake and remove auto-play – this will improve the user experience, speed up the page load and cut your website’s emissions.
Choose fonts wisely
Web fonts can make your website look great, but they add significant weight to your website – as much as 500kb for a file that includes a single, bold font. Using systems fonts, and sticking to just one or two, can hugely reduce the carbon impact of your website. Think of all the fonts that are generally pre-loaded on a device (such as Garamond or Courier) and use a couple of those instead – they don’t require any files, and have the added benefit of being more ink-efficient when printing.
Refine the user journey
The less time someone spends on your website, the more eco-friendly your website will be. And the best way to shorten the time visitors spend on your site is to refine the user journey. Visitors want to be able to do what they came to your website to do quickly and with no hassle, and that means giving them the exact information they need to complete a task. Nothing more, nothing less. This will reduce the amount of time they spend online and the number of pages they need to load, and reduce the environmental impact of your website.
Learn more about designing websites sustainably in our article What is sustainable web design?
Keep it concise
As well as designing your website to shorten the user journey, you should be writing with that goal in mind too. Keep your copy short, simple and purposeful, and make good use of bullet points and sub-headings. The less copy you have on your page, the more value your visitors will get and the quicker they will find the information they came looking for – which means less time online and fewer carbon emissions generated.
Make it actionable
Every page of your website should have a purpose, and the copy on it should make that purpose clear. What action do you want people to take on each page? Have that action in mind while you are writing, and use your copy to guide visitors towards taking it. Making your content clear, easy to understand and actionable helps visitors better understand their options and reduces the time they spend online trying to make a decision.
Just as a well trained athlete still needs a good pair of trainers, an eco-friendly website needs a high quality hosting package in order to run as fast as possible.
Choose a ‘green’ host
Much of a website’s carbon footprint is generated in the data centre where it loads from, so choosing a hosting provider that runs on sustainable energy can massively reduce the environmental impact of your website. You can check the eco credentials of a prospective hosting over at the Green Web Foundation.
Prioritise server caching
Websites that use a content management system like WordPress generate a page dynamically every time a visitor lands on it, increasing the amount of energy the server uses. Choosing a hosting provider that offers server caching – pre-generating static versions of each page – as part of the package reduces the energy required, speeds up page load and increases your website efficiency and performance.
Use a data centre close to your users
The further your website data has to travel, the more energy it uses and the more carbon it produces. Choosing a data centre that’s in the same geographical area as your target users will not only reduce your website’s emissions, it will speed up page load times for them too. Better for users, and better for the planet.
Use a Content Delivery Network
Some websites will attract a global audience, and that makes it more difficult to use a local data centre. In these circumstances, a Content Delivery Network can help keep your website’s emissions down by loading your website from whichever data centre in the network is closest to the end user. Again, this increases data transfer speeds, improves page load times and boosts your websites eco-friendliness.
considerate content strategy
Adopt a less-is-more approach focussing on producing a smaller number of pages that serve a set purpose rather than simply racking up pointless visits.
Quality over quantity
The most eco-friendly content strategy is one that focuses on quality over quantity and answers website visitors’ questions quickly. Why? Because the more unnecessary content you have on your website, the bigger your website will be, the longer it will take to load and the more CO2 it will generate. As a business owner, you know what your target audience is looking for, and there’s little to be gained from writing content that gives them any else.
Cull old content
An eco-friendly content strategy will focus as much on removing old, out-dated content as much as creating new content. Time-sensitive blogs and videos, if left languishing on your website for years on end, will add hugely to your website’s carbon footprint while adding no value for visitors. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever create time-sensitive content – live-blogging an industry event, for example, can be fun to do and fun for visitors – but your content strategy should include a regular cull.
Generate evergreen content
Evergreen content is content that never goes out of date and is always relevant. It includes things like blog posts and articles that answer your audience’s most common questions about what you do, and how and why you do it. A good, eco-friendly content strategy will include generating content that works towards keeping the user journey short and friction-free, so visitors can minimise the time they spend online while getting maximum value.
Search engine optimisation (SEO)
Optimise your website for keywords that will help you attract your right audience, not just a bigger one.
Make information easy to find
People spend a lot of time online looking for answers. By optimising your website for search engine rankings, you help people find the information they want quickly and easily, thereby reducing the time they spend online and the CO2 your website produces.
Make content easy to find
Doing a bit of keyword and key phrase research will mean you can create content that answers your audience’s questions fully but succinctly. Any time your visitors spend searching, scrolling and clicking between pages to find the information they want is emissions your website is generating. Using good SEO practices, smart 404 pages and redirects, and onsite search functions will all help visitors find content more quickly, boosting your website’s eco-friendliness.
We hope this blog post has given you a few good tips for making your website more eco-friendly. Remember that even the smallest of steps can make a huge impact, and that making sustainability improvements needn’t be an all-or-nothing undertaking. You could try implementing just one of the tips from those we’ve written about and see what impact that has. We’ve discussed how:
- Removing unnecessary images can speed up your website’s load time.
- Writing clear and concise copy can benefit your users and your eco-credentials, helping people find the information they need, quickly.
- Culling old, out-of-date content reduces the size – and environmental impact – of your website.
- Minimising tracking scripts protects both your visitors’ privacy, and the planet.
Find out more about making your website more eco-friendly with these resources.
- Video: An environmental monster? – LinkedIn article by Joe Jones
- How your fonts affect page speed – A look at web fonts
- The performance cost of web fonts – Tips for greening your web font use
- How to use keywords for SEO and web sustainability – Tips for writing eco-friendly content
- Actionable content – A guide for writing content that helps your audience