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Digital sustainability for websites

 |  Environmental impact Infrastructure + stack Web + software development

Digital sustainability is about utilising the tools of digital transformation to improve the environment and support sustainable business operations.

It is a complex topic and can mean a lot of different things to different people, but simplified, anything that reduces page load times will usually have a positive impact on your website’s carbon footprint. And obviously the other way around, anything you add that makes the site slower to load will increase your carbon footprint and therefore have a negative impact on your digital sustainability.

But also, most things one would consider as important for a well designed website, like good user experience and accessibility, influences your website’s carbon footprint. For example if it is hard to find what a user is looking for they will likely spend more time on your website, loading more pages and therefore increase your website’s overall carbon footprint.

Why does it matter?

A website that has 100k page visits a month and is a bit on the heavier side, emitting 2.5g of CO2e per page load, produces 3 tonnes of CO2e a year. While reducing one website’s carbon footprint won’t change the world, if everyone would do their part and keep their website’s CO2e emission in check it would make a significant difference in fighting climate change.

And a lot of the improvements mentioned below will also help to make the experience more enjoyable for your users, and improve performance for those with slower devices or limited internet.

What can you do?

Below are a couple of areas and high level actions that are worth looking into when it comes to digital sustainability. A good approach to get a better understanding and reduce your website’s carbon footprint is to run your site through some tools to get an indication on how specific pages perform and see where optimisations can be made.

Area Why is it important? Actions
Improve User Experience The harder it is for users to find what they are looking for the more time they will spend potentially loading pages after pages and therefore the carbon footprint of the site will be higher. • Improve page rendering
• Improve page interactions
• Optimise content for search
• Improve accessibility
Reduce page size The smaller the page size the lower the carbon footprint per page load. • Optimise media
• Reduce page weight
• Remove unused code
Optimise performance The more performant a page, e.g. the lower the amount of server requests, the lower the carbon footprint per page load. • Reduce server requests
• Consider reducing third-party tools
Green hosting The lower the carbon footprint of your hosting provider the lower the carbon footprint of your site. • Renewable energy sources
• Energy efficiency

If you are not bound to a specific hosting provider, switching to one that uses only, or at least mainly, renewable energy can have the biggest impact.

If you can’t easily switch hosting providers and/or this is your first time thinking about digital sustainability Google Page Speed Insights can be a good and simple place to start your journey as you can get an idea of your site’s performance on mobile and desktop. And the better your site performs there the lower will usually be your carbon footprint.

Some more comprehensive tools that we use here at Springtimesoft to determine specific pages’ carbon footprint and areas that can be optimised in terms of performance and accessibility are Ecograder and Google’s Lighthouse to name just a few.

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