You might not think so, but despite being digital, the internet does impact the environment. Just because something is digital doesn’t mean it can’t produce physical waste.
The internet requires power and physical servers to run, and the energy needed typically comes from sources like petroleum, coal, and natural gas, which emit CO2 as they burn. In fact, nearly 4% of global greenhouse emissions come from the use of digital devices, the internet, and the systems that power them—and the average website emits 1.76 grams of CO2 per page view.
While most web designers and businesses, both big and small, don’t often think about how their website contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, it is a significant issue that needs addressing.
We will only continue to use the internet and other digital systems more and more, and ignoring the fact that they too have a negative impact on the environment will set us back in our efforts to become a zero-emission economy.
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What is Sustainable Web Design?
If companies want to stay relevant, they must start using and creating sustainable systems and designs. Consumers are increasingly drawn towards brands that utilize green practices, and being innovative is the only way to stay ahead of the game.
If your competition beats you to it, you may just find yourself getting pushed out of the market. Creating a sustainable design for your website is a great place to start.
Sustainable web design is essentially a way of creating a website to reduce the amount of energy it needs to run and for users to access it. Longer loading times and poor UX design increase the amount of time an individual is on a website, thus increasing the amount of power and resources being eaten up.
To avoid this, companies can create a sustainable website by using elements such as optimized images, minified back-end code, and responsive design to help reduce CO2 emissions.
Tips for Building a Sustainable Website
If you are looking to improve user experience and reduce your carbon footprint with a sustainable web design, there are a few steps you can take. Additionally, it’s important to note that sustainable design practices not only involve improving the performance of your website but also implementing green practices and principles throughout your business as a whole.
- Optimize the performance of your website: This requires building a site that utilizes fewer page assets and getting those assets to load as quickly as possible.
- Improve user experience (UX): The more user-friendly a site is, the less time it will take users to find what they need and accomplish tasks.
- Utilize sustainable content strategies: This one ties in with UX design but is specifically about developing efficient content governance practices and getting users to the content they need as quickly as possible.
- Use green web hosting: No two web hosts are the same, and some are better and greener than others. To improve the sustainability of your website, it’s essential to utilize a host that powers your data using renewable energy resources.
- Implement sustainable business practices: As mentioned above, having a genuinely sustainable website means the company, services, and products behind that site are also sustainable. Your business ethics, your performance, the clients you work with, the products you sell, the services you provide, and your day-to-day practices should all be rooted in sustainability if you truly want to make an impact.
Be mindful, however, not to simply present yourself as an environmentally friendly company just to get clicks and conversions. Instead, you need to actually put in the work and the effort to prove how your company and your practices are making an effort to be more sustainable.
How to Optimize Website Performance
Saying you need to optimize your site is one thing, but you might wonder how exactly to go about doing it. The steps above are all ways that you can improve your site’s performance and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the following are a few more specific ways you can optimize your website for a more sustainable design:
- Make it easy to read: Users want readable content that’s composed of simple sentences and phrases with recognizable words. You essentially want content on your site that is attractive and engaging yet reads around a 5th-grade level. You can create a design and content that is easier to view and read by using:
- Larger font sizes
- Varying font types
- Text themes
- Make it easy to navigate: You should have navigation buttons or menu buttons that are easily accessible and legible. No one wants to spend forever on a site trying to figure out how to access the content they want or need.
- Make it mobile-friendly: While many users do still surf the internet on their computers or laptops, most access websites throughout the day on their phones. As cell phones have smaller screens, you should create a mobile-friendly version of your site that is even easier to access with less clutter and a simpler design.
- Create a clutter-free homepage: The homepage should clearly communicate who you are and what you offer. If there is too much going on, it can distract users, which will ultimately end in them wasting time trying to find the content they need. A good homepage will:
- Put important content front and center
- Create space between elements
- Add imagery
- Include a call-to-action
Ultimately, you want a website design that is attractive and engaging, but that accomplishes this by utilizing fewer elements that make more of an impact, as opposed to lots of elements with little impact. This will improve user experience and boost your performance and sustainability efforts by creating a less time-consuming design for users to navigate.
Above, we mentioned that to truly create a sustainable website, you must also implement green principles throughout all of your business practices. Users don’t just want to interact with sustainable websites; they want a brand’s products, services, and business ethics and practices to be green as a whole. Unfortunately, to stand out and get clicks, many companies are starting to utilize greenwashing practices to make themselves seem eco-friendly and sustainable when they really are not.
Greenwashing occurs when a business or brand markets itself as sustainable by using certain aesthetics to attract eco-conscious users but don’t actually have sustainable products, services, or practices. Essentially, they are lying about their environmental contributions to trick users into buying their products or services.
There is a lot of pressure on brands these days to utilize sustainable practices, but lying about how sustainable you are is harmful. It’s better to take what small steps you can and build on your green practices from there. If you aren’t 100 percent sustainable from the start, that’s okay. Users would rather engage with brands and businesses making some small effort rather than find out they’ve made purchases under false claims. Lying about your business practices can have severe consequences and ultimately ruin your brand reputation.
Building a Zero-Emission Future, One Sustainable Website at a Time
Building more sustainable digital systems, like the internet and websites, is a big step towards reducing our carbon footprint as a society and becoming a zero-emission economy. While some are still catching up to this movement, it is happening on a global level, and eventually, businesses and brands that don’t make an effort will get left behind.
Designing a sustainable website is not just something you should do; it is something you must do if you want to stay relevant. There are always trends that will come and go that businesses will need to take part in to stand out to newer generations, but becoming sustainable is more than just a trend. Our society will continue to make advancements and move forward, and finding ways to continually live our lives in a more eco-conscious way is not a trend that will ever go away. If you want your business to grow and exist in the future, you need to have sustainable designs and practices.