The Journey to Sustainable Web Design

Nowadays, the internet is all around us. We shop for groceries online, watch movies online, date online, and run our businesses online. Head to the Sustainable Web Manifesto and you will see, “if the internet was a country, it would be the 7th largest polluter”. This is not somebody else’s problem to take care of, rather it is our own – those of us who build websites and store data on the web. Environment Lethbridge is beginning our own journey towards digital sustainability, and we would love for you to join us. This article highlights key steps that can be taken to achieve a greener presence online.

What is sustainable web design? Truly sustainable web design should be transparent in communication, efficient in speed and load time, clean in terms of the energy used to power it, and open – sharing the knowledge acquired with others so they too can implement sustainable designs. Finally, sustainable web design should be regenerative – finding ways to invest back into nature. The simplest example of this could be using a portion of revenue generated from your website to plant trees in your community. 

Be honest and avoid greenwashing. In the journey towards sustainability, it can be tempting to make big promises that cannot be fulfilled. Be careful of “greenwashing” – a term used to refer to misinformation shared by companies to seem more environmentally friendly than they really are. During this journey, be honest about the actions you are taking and those you have yet to take.

Install a browser extension to monitor your digital footprint. There is an extension available that tracks your browsing activity and reports on your digital carbon footprint. This is a great addition to your digital searches as it keeps sustainability at the forefront of your thoughts. It is called Carbonalyser and can be downloaded here.

Assess where your website is at now, so you can see the progress you have made later. Before you begin making any changes, assess the functionality of your website in its current state. One way to do this is by running it through Website Carbon. This is an online tool that will tell you the current carbon footprint of your site. This is a great way to identify areas in need of improvement. Simply cut and paste your website URL into the bar on Website Carbon and click “Calculate”.

Create a plan and implement it. Once you have run your website through Website Carbon, you can assess what changes need to be made. If you scroll down through your report, it should tell you some of the key areas in need of improvement. Write these down, take notes on what needs to be improved, and then start to come up with a plan. It may take time and it won’t be perfect, but don’t give up. Now that you know what needs to be done, make it happen. Whether you need to do some research or hire external experts, come up with a realistic plan to improve your website’s carbon footprint and start putting that plan into action.

Quick Tips. Two ways you can immediately improve sustainability? First, switch to a provider that uses green energy. Environment Lethbridge hosts their sites with GreenGeeks, a provider that uses 100% clean energy to power their servers. Although this isn’t perfect as energy is still being used, it is a cleaner option. Second, optimize your image sizes and file formats. This is one of the easiest ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your website. By scaling down images to the proper size and using the proper file format, you can quickly increase the efficiency of your website.

Compare the after-product. Now that you have made changes, run your website through Website Carbon again to check the difference you have made. You should be proud! Any improvements are a great start. If your site is still operating inefficiently, note down the areas that still need improvement and come up with another plan. Keep up the good work and remember, this isn’t just a one time energy saving initiative – every time someone visits your website it will have an impact!

The path towards a sustainable web presence is a marathon not a sprint. But we are committed to this journey and we hope you are too. Environment Lethbridge has taken an online pledge committing to sustainable web design, and we invite you to sign as well. Together, we can make a positive difference.

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