Your website can always be more sustainable, here’s how
The climate impacts of digital technologies are becoming better understood. But what can you do with your own website? Here, Matt Sutherland of digital agency True shares a three-step guide.
Let’s make it easy: how to improve your website’s sustainability / Jakob Owens via Unsplash
As more marketing has shifted to digital channels, we’re printing less physical marketing collateral. The assumption is that marketers have, quite naturally, become more sustainable. But is that true?
Digital revenues are growing globally at more than 25% per year. Estimates vary, but some experts say that the internet now accounts for up to 10% of the world's total energy consumption, and up to 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
So, while there’s no doubt that printing less is good environmentally, the growing environmental impact of digital cannot be ignored.
Better is better
All marketing activity has an impact. We’re not going to stop offering consumers a shop window (of the physical or digital variety), but there are things we can do to measure the impact of our websites, and steps we can take to lessen their environmental impact.
Happily, what’s better for the environment, is often also better for website performance, accessibility, and search discoverability.
Sustainable and performant websites alike prioritize efficient and user-friendly design, efficient use of resources, and regular maintenance. This approach to more sustainable websites involves three key steps – benchmarking, improvement and iteration.
Benchmarking consists in measuring how your site is performing from a sustainability perspective so that you can record where your site currently is and understand the changes you can make to improve it.
A good starting point is the Website Carbon Calculator from Wholegrain Digital. It focuses on metrics like data transfer, energy intensity, website traffic, location, and details about your hosting data center to calculate a score for your site. For Azure users, check out Microsoft’s Cloud for Sustainability API; it lets you monitor the carbon emissions of your hosting.
We also benchmark, monitor and optimize our website performance using tools like Google Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights. These tools identify areas of your website that can negatively impact performance and therefore sustainability.
There are many things you can do to improve your website’s sustainability. One major step is green hosting – using a provider that relies on renewable energy. Choosing the right hosting provider is key, so do some research.
You can make significant progress through content optimization. Optimizing images, videos and other media can significantly improve page load times and reduce the overall size of the website, reducing data transfer. Look into using a content delivery network (CDN) to serve up static resources such as images, style sheets and scripts. This allows visitors to download resources from a server that is physically closer to them than your host might be.
Likewise, code optimization can have a large impact. A clean and efficient codebase is essential for both sustainability and performance. It helps reduce page load times and makes it easier to maintain and update the website over time. Caching helps too: storing commonly used content on the user's device reduces the amount of data that needs to be transmitted on each visit.
Finally, consider micro-services: small, independent pieces of functionality that can provide a service to your website. They enable a level of scalability, resilience and flexibility to reduce the complexity of your web platform. Because they can be deployed separately, they can reduce the weight of a deployment.
After any improvements, aim to iterate. Continuously improving allows you to incrementally improve sustainability goals; to regularly revisit performance; and to strive for better.
Better sustainability can be hard to achieve. It often requires a trade-off between creative innovation and environmental impact. Striking the balance is important. As is understanding that good performance, accessibility, and technical SEO implementations will equal good, sustainable websites.
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19 years ago true was founded with the aim of being different; straight-talking, to the point, focussed on delivering long-term growth, not through chat, but through action. Creating work that was true to our clients’ needs, true to their customers’ needs and true to our own expectations.Find out more