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Liam Hall
Liam Hall

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Understanding and reducing your websites carbon footprint

Every year the internet is responsible for the release of an estimated 300m tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, that’s equivalent to more than half of the fossil fuels burned in the UK every year.

It’s impossible to know the exact footprint left by the internet due to its complex nature of millions, possibly even billions of devices worldwide, along with data centers and transmitters used for storing and distributing data. However reports by research company Gartner suggested that data centers accounted for roughly 1/4 of the energy consumed (and the carbon emitted) by the ICT (information and communication technology) sector as a whole, which is around 0.5% of global CO2 emissions. The report also found that monitors and screens had an even greater share of the total energy consumed by the industry, at around 40%.

With the ICT sectors carbon footprint due to climb by 60% by 2030 it’s important that we take consideration what we can do to reduce that impact.

There are some great tools for understanding your websites:

The green web foundation has a tool for quickly establishing whether your hosting provider is using green energy or offsetting their power usages in other ways: https://www.thegreenwebfoundation.org/

Website carbon calculator is a more in depth tool which helps give you a better understanding of just how much energy your site is using: https://www.websitecarbon.com/

I’m proud to say that my personal website is considered better than 83% of websites tested by the website carbon calculator and is hosted by a green provider. However, that is still the equivalent of the amount of carbon it takes 2 trees a year to absorb and the same amount of energy it would take an electric car to travel 538 kilometers (334 miles), so of course there is still more to do.

So how can we look at reducing our own website foot prints?

It starts with design, in particular the use of imagery. Images are responsible for an overwhelming overhead of many websites, in particular large, high definition images. Design must ask, do we need all of these images? Do all of these images enhance the users experience? Can we give the user an engaging experience with less images? Have the images been compressed?

Font choice again is important, fonts can be important to brand image but font files can be as much as 250kb per weight. Reducing variation and using system fonts where possible could have a hugely positive impact on your page size.

Careful consideration when designing for user experience, understanding your user journey and what they are looking for on your website allows users to find what they’re looking for faster, reducing time they spend looking at your website (Damaging your vanity Session Duration analytics). Good UX coupled with considered copy-writing all have a positive impact on reducing the users time spent wasted trying to find what they’re looking for.

Development, of course, also plays a major role in the reduction of your websites carbon footprint. Writing clean , uncluttered code can significantly reduce file sizes. Combined with an efficient code minifying process your file sizes can be halved.

We should be introducing techniques like caching to produce static versions of your server rendered pages and in turn reducing requests to the database. When possible, we should be considering creating statically generated websites - Tools like Gatsby and Gridsome make this really easy for those who like to work in JavaScript frameworks like Vue and React, although not necessarily an option for many larger more complex websites.

The way your website is served has an important part to play, as we’ve already touched on, having a green supplier is very important but you can go further, introduce CDN to distribute your websites. CDN stands for Content Delivery Network, which essentially means your website is served as close to your user as possible, meaning less leg work to fetch your website.

Of course there are non technical ways you can offset your foot print by sponsoring the planting of trees using websites like https://treesforlife.org.uk/ or, if possible, going out and planting trees yourself!

In conclusion, the web has an important role to play in reducing carbon emissions. I’m trying my best but still have a long way to go.

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