As we move into year three of the post-COVID19-upheaval world, it’s very clear that the societal, economic, and work changes it has created are not going to go away. With this increased online activity (and the bandwidth it requires) combined with the ongoing catastrophe of climate change, a noteworthy and important trend has received new attention over these past few years: the sustainability of our online spaces.
This attention is well deserved: There are estimates that internet activity (if it was seen as one country) would be the sixth-largest polluter in the world. Other estimates put it at 1.6 billion tons (and rising quickly!) of greenhouse gas emissions produced in the manufacture and running of internet technologies.
With this in mind, considered the sustainability of your website lately? You should, and you should follow these steps to set it up for the future.
It all starts with a good plan
Few successful projects succeed without a clear plan. The start of making your website sustainable needs research and careful planning. And a before-anything step (you can try it right now!) is to use a tool like www.websitecarbon.com or ecograder.com to get a baseline for your current impacts.
After that, typical website use, layout, and page ergonomics questions should be considered and answered, all with the idea in mind of making things simple and easy to navigate. Segment your data and use cases clearly, which will allow you to determine clear user flows to each element. This analysis allows you to sketch out a structure that ensures site accessibility with the minimal page loads required.
A good planning step is to create a page weight budget – the maximum size desired (in kilobytes and megabytes) of all the assets and page components that need to be loaded by each user. This creates a clear, known goal for the team, as they have to deliver each page functionality while staying inside of the agreed budget. It forces attention on things like images, animations, and embedded videos, and ensures that everything is there for a purpose.
Findability and Usability: Don’t waste your users’ time (and thus their bandwidth!)
During your planning, make sure to consider content findability. By this, we mean: can users quickly reach the content they need? Is that content useful for them, or will they have to keep browsing? Every unnecessary page click and asset load is bandwidth that was unneeded, and essentially wasted.
Similarly, people come to your website for a purpose, whether that be work, news, a service, or just fun. You need to pay close attention to making sure your site is designed intelligently and is usable across all various bandwidth speeds, and that people can accomplish their goals without a bunch of waste.
The nuts and bolts of a greener, better site
Many of these tips spill can overlap a bit, but for this section, we’re focusing directly on technical questions and the design of the actual components of a given page. There is a lot that can go into this, but key considerations include:
- Has the design used the minimum number of custom fonts? Many people don’t realise that loading custom fonts takes bandwidth, and that can easily add up to waste and slowness.
- Does your page construction and setup work across different devices, platforms and formats? If not, users will be unable to find things and accomplish their tasks, wasting bandwidth.
- Are video, animation and graphics kept in check? We know, they add a lot of engagement and impact. But not all images and graphics are really needed, and they take up a lot of bandwidth. Auto-play videos or audio files are the worst, as they both waste bandwidth and often annoy users.
- Similarly, are images compressed and optimised? How quickly do assets download to users? It’s both a usability factor, and a matter of bandwidth usage.
- Remember the backend – usability and efficiency matter for website managers as well, not just users. Easier and efficient CMS systems not only keep your team happy, they also save time and energy.
- The very process of design can also follow sustainable guidelines. Don’t reinvent the wheel, because the efforts of your web design teams create emissions too. These can be reduced if, for example, reusable code is available rather than coding from scratch.
Web hosting: it’s not easy being green
Taking a close look at hosting is key for many reasons: reliability, security, and yes, sustainability. A full assessment can get pretty technical, but the companies you’re looking at should have information available (if they don’t look elsewhere!). Some things to keep an eye out for include:
- strong bot protection (bot traffic isn’t just annoying, it consumes bandwidth),
- having a data centre close to the envisaged user base,
- utilising server caching or a static web technology to pre-build web pages (thus avoiding unnecessary processing), and
- finding hosting that uses renewable energy.
For whatever processes or hardware you keep in-house, make sure to choose equipment from manufacturers with environmental credentials, and try to source refurbished machines where possible. Refurbished machines aren’t just cheaper – avoiding the CO2 cost of new production means that your deployment will have a fraction of the impact of buying new. For example, 80% of the carbon footprint of a 13″ MacBook laptop is from the initial manufacture and transport.
It can start with your website, but sustainable design is so much more
This last tip goes beyond just creating (or reworking) a website, but we hope this exercise inspires a closer look at processes throughout your organisation. Some bigger-picture things are obviously connected, like choosing to avoid unnecessary user tracking, data collection, and targeting – these can not only be of dubious ethical value, but also consume a lot of energy and bandwidth.
Beyond that, consider bringing the same focus on ethics, performance, and responsibility to projects throughout your organisation, not just web design. The entire life cycle of projects can be managed and intended not only to reduce inefficiency and CO2 emissions, but also to create more value than the resources used in creation.
If all our projects sought to attain these goals, we’d be much closer to being on our way towards a sustainable future.
How ZN can help
If you need help or expertise in creating or revamping your website, we’d love to assist. We have many years of experience creating and deploying sites and landing pages, and love to deliver on cutting-edge sustainable techniques and tools.
Sustainable design is a key focus of ours, and we’re constantly exploring the intersection of solutions that not only offer great success (engagement, campaign support, user experience, etc.) but also do so in a forward-looking, green way.
Book a video meeting with us to discuss your needs.