Published 1 year ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Mizuno K/Pexels
As creators of our digital world, we have a powerful role to play. We must consciously reinvent web design to radically reduce the polluting impacts of our sites and apps. We must use our talents to rethink how we build websites, reduce wastage and save energy — or else, we’re complicit.
When we think of industries that most exacerbate the climate emergency, our minds tend to go to aviation,
agriculture, manufacturing or Big Oil. But few of us think about the energy
impact of all the taps, clicks and swipes we make all day, every day.
The stark reality is, if the internet were a country, it would be the seventh
in the world, after Germany. It may not seem like it — our sleek,
self-contained, odourless machines don’t feel pollutive — but in fact, the
carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet and the systems supporting them
are similar to that of the annual emissions of the global airline industry.
So, what can be done?
Our own approach has been to carefully examine each website we work on to ensure
they meet standards and criteria which can help significantly impact the site’s
sustainability credentials. And every change or adaptation a website makes to
become more sustainable has the added benefit of making it, well, better.
Truly sustainable businesses address the many interconnected social and environmental challenges that brands and their customers face — and strive for net-positive outcomes and impacts, in addition to growth. SB's latest guidebook can help your company navigate the path toward enhanced brand sustainability with key insights, actionable steps and a holistic framework that defines a roadmap for good growth.
The fact is that ‘greener’ websites are more user-friendly, operate faster, look
better and are easier to navigate. They’re simpler, leaner, more minimal, and
lighter in design and operation. They perform better in search, are more
accessible, require less maintenance and are cheaper to maintain. Oh, and
they’re better for the environment!
So, why wouldn’t you make your site more sustainable?
The carbon ‘weight’ of a business’s online properties can be assessed against
the following five criteria:
Incorporating lean or agile workflows from the start, rather than relying on
traditional models designed on 21st-century assembly lines, can help streamline
a build and require fewer resources during a project’s lifecycle. Establishing a
site’s weight budget can keep developers conscious of keeping content to a
minimum. It should be noted that the average web page is 5MB, 26 times the size
it was in 2003.
Simply put: Helping people find your website more easily isn’t just good
marketing practice; SEO helps reduce front-end energy consumption.
Similarly, the more images, videos, motion content and GIFs a website uses, the
more energy consumed. On most websites, images are the single largest
contributor to page weight. A website with video playing can be one or even two
orders of magnitude heavier than a website without video in terms of page weight
and creates much higher load on the user’s CPU, resulting in vastly greater
Good information architecture and user experience should be considered from the
very outset. Indeed, IA and UX designers have considerable influence over the
environmental impact of a website. Simplifying wireframing and user journeys,
prioritising fonts and typography which require less load times and increasingly
important: using dark colours and night-mode all makes a difference — Google
claims that running Google Maps in night mode reduces screen power draw by 63 percent.
Well-written code is more sustainable code. It’s more efficient (as well as more
reliable, secure and easy to maintain). If you can write in ten lines of code
what you used to write in a hundred lines, you’ve not only reduced the size of
the file but likely reduced the amount of work the server has to do to process
The data centre in which your website is hosted will use vast amounts of
electricity to store and process data. So, choose wisely — some centres are
more polluting than others, depending on their level of energy efficiency and
whether they have any meaningful commitment to using green energy sources. More
sustainable hosts will strive to minimise any negative impact in all of these
areas; and as we strive to create a less polluting web, we should aim to use the
lowest-impact options available to host our web projects.
If we, as the stewards of an ever-evolving internet, wish to play our part in
solving the climate crisis, we must recognise our own responsibility and
understand the things we can do. They may seem small, but the sheer scale of the
proliferation of tech means modest changes across the global digital landscape
can make enormous impact.
It is time that we recognise that as an industry, we have a powerful role to
play. We must consciously reinvent web design. We must use our talents to
rethink how we build websites, reduce wastage and save energy — or else, we’re
complicit. We’re at an ecological, economical and social tipping point. We need
to think ‘greener’ and cleaner — even on a digital level.
Published Aug 2, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Kim Verhaeghen is CEO and co-founder of brandtech agency Springbok, where he designs businesses and brands that will positively shape society. Springbok was founded in 2014 and currently boasts a team of +300 talents across 6 offices in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Kim is also an avid yogi and owns a yoga studio in Antwerp.