Why We Built the World’s First Website Carbon Calculator

Every time someone loads a web page, it emits an average of 6 grams of CO2. Collectively, this means the web accounts for 2% of all global GHG emissions — equivalent to the global aviation industry.

By Rachael Blair of Wholegrain Digital

Since Wholegrain Digital was founded in 2007, being a sustainable business that has a positive impact on the world has been an integral part of our mission. As a web design agency, we believe that the most effective way to do this is to produce “green” websites. However, knowing how to do this (and where to begin!) was challenging at first, as we didn’t have a clear understanding of the environmental footprint of the sites we were developing.

Twelve years on, we find ourselves in a different position: a Certified B Corporation; creators of the world’s first carbon calculator for websites; and leaders in the sustainable web revolution.

Becoming a B Corp

Wholegrain Digital certified as a B Corp in 2017. The in-depth assessment process gave us a clearer idea of the size of the internet’s carbon emissions and showed us that our company’s work contributes to this every day. To give you an idea: Every time someone loads a web page, it emits an average of 6 grams of carbon dioxide. Collectively, this means the web accounts for 2 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Although we tend to think of the internet as a virtual concept, this is actually equivalent to the global aviation industry.

Certified B Corps: A standard of sustainable excellence in business

Learn tricks of the trade from a host of B Corporations — including Allbirds, BBMG, Ben & Jerry’s, Biomimicry 3.8, Danone, Eileen Fisher, method, Patagonia and more — at SB'19 Detroit, June 3-6.

Becoming a B Corp has further inspired us to make a more tangible effort to affect change, and being a part of this community offers great support in helping us to do so.

The world’s first carbon calculator for websites

After learning more about web sustainability, we started to ask questions: How do these global emissions relate to individual websites? Can we measure this?

At this time, there was no real way of measuring the carbon footprint of websites, so we set about designing a solution. The result is the world’s first carbon calculator for websites, which we shared with the wider online community in May 2018. Developing the calculator has allowed us to review our business processes and take ownership of the broader issue, so that we can lead a wider shift in encouraging best practice within our industry.

Understanding our impact has led to a radical shift in our practices. After launching the carbon calculator, it was time for us to walk the talk and work out our own website carbon emissions. The next step was to overhaul the site, using our unique efficiency by design process, which delivers great user experience and SEO by focusing on the three pillars of efficiency: performance, sustainability and accessibility. Our goal was to build a more efficient site with significantly lower carbon emissions. The first iteration of the new website launched in August 2018, and it was 77 percent faster, with a 45 percent reduction in carbon emissions — a success all around!

The carbon calculator enables us to communicate a website’s environmental impact when working on projects with clients. It also shows that, from the initial discovery stage, putting efficiency at the heart of the design process can be better for business and lessen the impact on our planet.

Leading a sustainable web (and world) revolution

We’re always looking to encourage others to take responsibility and make this industry more sustainable. So we’ve teamed with fellow B Corps LeapMightybytes and OpenConcept, as well as other industry professionals, to develop a sustainable web manifesto. The manifesto sets out a series of core principles that all web professionals can sign up to as a way of demonstrating their shared commitment to creating a sustainable internet.

Those who sign up are pledging that the products and services they create and use are clean, efficient, open, honest and regenerative. As this community of sustainable web professionals grows, we all support each other to achieve this by sharing new developments, ideas and best practice  —  much like the B Corp community!

Our mission remains as it always has been: ensuring that we have a positive impact on people and planet. Our focus is within our industry, where we believe we can really affect change. However, the principle of leadership being about taking real action to drive things forward can apply across all industries.

With B Corps leading the charge within our respective areas and with more companies joining the movement, we believe that we can be an unstoppable force, creating a better future for people and planet.

This post first appeared on Medium on March 5, 2019.

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