Three steps to make a more sustainable website yourself

computer screen with foliage bursting out of the screen

It’s estimated that more than half of the people living on this planet regularly use the internet.  That’s more than 4 billion people!  All of those emails, social media posts, google searches, Youtube edits, Netflix binge watching sessions and, as of 2020, Zoom meetings, have an energy cost.  That’s why the internet now uses more electricity each year than the UK and has a greater carbon footprint than the aviation industry (and it’s growing).  Depending on which source you reference, the internet accounts for anywhere between 2% and 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  With our lives becoming more reliant on the internet, and the rise of power-hungry crypto-currencies, this is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed at every level.

As many of us make changes in our personal and professional lives in light of the climate emergency, we want to share a set of simple steps that you can take yourself to reduce the environmental impact of your website.

Switch to sustainable Eco Hosting

Everything on the internet is simply a collection of files that are sent between devices – the computer, phone or tablet that you are using to browse the web sends a request, and the server where those files are hosted sends the files to your device.  Every click generates a request and delivery of files.  Your website and emails are hosted on servers that are turned on 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.  When looking at the carbon footprint of “the internet”, the energy used by web hosting (servers and data centres) accounts for around 20% of total energy consumption, so switching your web hosting to a company that uses renewable energy to power their servers and data centres is a great and significant first step to reducing your site’s footprint.

If you’re interested in switching to sustainable website hosting then check out our guide, and please also consider Leap’s own carbon zero web hosting service Wunderism.

Reduce the size, increase the speed

The larger the size of the files that your website is made up of, the more energy is required to store and deliver them.  It also takes more time to deliver them, and this is where reducing the size of your files provides double the bang for your buck.  Smaller files make for a faster website, and both internet users and google alike love websites and pages that load faster.  This action will make your website greener, your website’s visitors happier (illustrated by a lower bounce rate) and your SEO/SERP rankings better.

The easiest way to achieve this is to focus on the images and videos on your website, which are likely to be the largest files.  First of all, are they all sized correctly?  It is unlikely that, for a full-width image, you need anything larger than 1800 pixels wide by 1200 pixels high, so if you’ve uploaded full size photos then you can start by replacing them with smaller versions.  Secondly, and this is a really easy win, is to save each image as “optimised for web” at 80%.  This reduces the file size without a realistically noticeable difference for the viewer, but it makes a huge file saving difference and can reduce the file size by 30-50%.

Leap’s founder Matt was recently interviewed by Wired Magazine for an article about the climate impact of modern, visually rich websites:

“Good design should always be thoughtful. A sustainably designed and built website isn’t just better for the planet and your business’s carbon footprint; it should also mean a faster-loading, more accessible experience for the user. Ask yourself, do I really need this many photos or that visual interaction?”

Another thing that you can do to reduce the size of your website’s pages and increase its loading speed is to cache your site.  A cache is a temporary data store that allows future requests for that data to be served up faster.  You can add a caching plugin to your website yourself if you use wordpress, or if we are working on your website we can sort it out for you.

Offset your website’s usage your website on green servers addresses the power consumption of the hardware that stores and “serves” your website, but it doesn’t deal with the footprint of the computers and devices that are being used to view your website.  You can switch your home and/or place of work to a renewable energy tarif to account for the electricity used by your machines when accessing your own website (servicing online orders, posting blog articles etc) and emails.  You can also offset the footprint of your site visitors, to account for the carbon footprint of the other half of the equation.  To do this, input your web page URL into to calculate the carbon footprint of your most popular pages.  Then, visit your website’s analytics page (google analytics, most likely) and under the Audience tab, select overview and set the date range for the period you require – perhaps the last calendar year.  You can then see the number of pageviews your site had in that time period and multiply it by the carbon footprint to get the impact of your website’s viewers (in grams, kilograms or tonnes).  You can then offset this through the scheme of your choice (we’d recommend using an organisation such as Eden Projects or fellow B Corp Ecosphere+).

These three steps could make a significant difference to the carbon footprint of your website, and can be actioned by most people with a basic working understanding of their website.  Even if you don’t implement all three, even just one change will reduce your site’s negative impact upon the environment.  We’ll be following this article up with another that details the (more complicated) actions that we can take on your behalf to reduce the carbon footprint of your website, either when designing and developing it or when taking remedial action on an existing site.  If you have any questions or would like to speak with us about greening your online properties, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.