Many people assume that the Internet is a more environmentally friendly way of sharing information; businesses and organizations are no longer printing materials on paper or plastics, using inks, and shipping mail as they did before the Internet became the primary marketing hub. There is a large environmental impact with supply chains, but building websites feels less impactful.
But is it? Not necessarily. In fact, creating and maintaining websites uses a lot of electricity. And websites that are heavily trafficked use even more energy.
The internet is not as green as you would think. Think of how many people are online at any given time. There’s an impact every time someone sends an email. Every time they send a tweet, or a Facebook post, etc. Then consider that an estimated 37% of the world’s population (that’s 2.9 billion people) have never used the internet, so there are still more people that could be online.
There’s a carbon footprint involved with all we do digitally. As businesses become increasingly digital, we must ask ourselves how to ensure sustainability online. That means more than just making sure your website is up and running so you can eliminate other forms of communication — it means harnessing the power of green energy, cloud use, and building sustainable websites so that our digital presence is as eco-friendly as possible.
This Earth Day, we’d like to provide some quick tips on how to be more proactive about sustainability when creating your next website project.
But first, how “green” is your current site?
If you follow website UX and coding best practices, here’s the good news: by default, best practices for web design and accessibility translate into more sustainable websites. They are built using lightweight code that can load quickly even on slow connections Since they are designed to prioritize user goals, and performance less time is spent loading or trying to find information … which translates into time, energy, and ultimately cost savings.
Sustainable websites also use fewer resources overall, which helps conserve energy. They are often made as fast and performant as possible, particularly if they are more heavily used on mobile devices. And don’t forget about accessibility: sustainable websites tend to be more accessible for users with disabilities too!
But if you need your website to be more sustainable, let’s dig into where you can make some impactful changes.
Harnessing green energy in the Cloud
Green energy is a key component of sustainability online. After all, each time you access the internet, you are using electricity. But what if you could use renewable sources of energy such as solar or wind power instead of relying on fossil fuels?
Cloud computing makes this possible. By hosting your data in the cloud and taking advantage of green energy sources, companies can reduce their carbon footprints while still getting access to all the same features they would with traditional hosting services. Plus, it’s often cheaper and has lower maintenance for your internal teams.
In short, work with your hosting provider to make sure your website is powered by renewable energy.
If you’re looking for a new hosting provider, a great place to look is The Green Web Foundation’s directory, a listing of over 500 hosting providers around the world with a tangible commitment to using green energy in their data centers.
Fun fact: Kanopi is hosted with Pantheon, which offers container-based, serverless hosting. And they’re built on GCP, a green platform.
Practice sustainable web design
Practicing sustainable web design will help make your site efficient while reducing website carbon emissions. This includes being smart about how you use images and how they load on the page; one example is using responsive images, which serve the correctly sized image for the user’s device to avoid unnecessary resource usage.
User Experience (UX) optimization is an ever-evolving practice, and Kanopi is constantly refining our approach to how users consume and interact with websites. By optimizing the user experience of your website, you can expect to see increased user satisfaction, shorter interaction pathways, and a reduction in overall energy consumption associated with your site. Essentially the better the usability of your site, the better it is for the environment. So make sure you know what your audiences are looking for so they can find it fast.
This also applies to content: create content that is meaningful to your users in order to keep the overall site lean, and avoid content that adds unwanted complexity or bloat to your site. Video content is especially energy dense and should be deployed in a purpose-driven and user-focused manner.
This website on sustainable web design has many other excellent suggestions on how to keep your site design as sustainable as possible.
Improve your page speed and performance
The faster your site loads and users find what they need, the less energy is used. The more efficient, the better. It really is that simple.
How the site is built and developed is key. Due to the collaborative nature of open-source tools and the community, software tools are optimized for better performance and efficiency (something proprietary solutions don’t often consider). Open-source tools can also help lean teams start small and test ideas before scaling, thereby reducing waste.
Website optimization is not a “set it and forget it” activity. It’s an area where you can always make iterative improvements, and ongoing optimization of your website is essential to reducing your energy footprint.
This can be done in several ways:
- Ensure your codebase is meeting or exceeding current best practices. Over time, these efficiencies will result in less energy consumed overall and will allow your site to stay evergreen.
- Performance reviews. Looking at the key metrics that inform Google’s Core Web Vitals is a great way to impact your page speed (and rank higher in search results, too). UX patterns play a role here as well, since patterns like carousels are tricky to implement without noticeably affecting your page load times.
- Only track what you need to track, and use a tag manager. Third-party trackers are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to slowing down your site. Think hard about how, when, and where you’re using the information, and only collect what you need. It’s also better for user privacy, which your users will appreciate!
Sustainability is good business.
At the end of the day, harnessing sustainability online is essential for businesses looking to remain competitive in today’s digital world while still being mindful of their environmental impact.
So when you’re thinking of more ways to be eco-friendly around the office, think beyond ways you can make your physical space greener or how your IT infrastructure could have a greener footprint. Consider how you can also apply eco-friendly techniques to your entire digital environment. In tandem with websites, sustainable digital marketing strategies go hand-in-hand. When it comes to digital marketing campaigns, it’s important to think about how you can minimize your environmental impact while still achieving your goals. This includes focusing on organic search traffic rather than paid ads whenever possible, and utilizing email marketing over direct mail campaigns which require physical materials like envelopes and paper.
We recommend regular UX and code audits as the improvements they can provide are not only essential to the long-term health of your website but also have a direct impact on the amount of energy consumed (Kanopi can help with audits). Taking a holistic approach to sustainability will ensure your business is doing its part, and opportunities for positive impact exist at every level and scale.
By keeping these tips in mind, CMOs and marketing managers can make sure their businesses are doing their part for people AND planet alike.
- Designing for Sustainability [Tim Frick]
- Sustainable UX [substack]
- The Link Between Your Digital Footprint and Your Carbon Footprint [Pantheon]
- How slimmed-down websites can cut their carbon emissions [BBC]
- 7 Ways to Align Climate Strategy with Digital Marketing Strategy [BtheChange.com]