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Every sustainable business needs to have a sustainable website.
Recycling programs, ridesharing, and eco-friendly packaging are common ways to reduce your brand’s carbon footprint, but those efforts only go so far. When you need to make a difference, it’s time to dig a little deeper and consider shifting your focus to building a sustainable website.
It’s easy to gloss over websites, the cloud, and the internet as ways to address sustainability. These concepts seem amorphous or imaginary to many people. It’s not easy to imagine how a website could impact your carbon footprint, let alone a negative one.
Unfortunately, our current use of digital technologies is not sustainable. According to a recent study on global trends, our use of digital technologies contributed to 3.7% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. Even more concerning, this trend marks a rise of more than one-half in less than five years.
That percentage seems relatively small, but when compared to other segments, it provides a shocking picture. Greenhouse gas emissions from digital technologies are higher than the 3.2% from waste and the 2.2% attributed to deforestation.
The best part is that creating a sustainable website is easier and less messy than starting a company compost pile. You might be surprised at how easy it is to make a lasting impact.
What Is a Sustainable Website?
A sustainable website puts the planet first with a focus on using minimal, renewable energy in the most efficient, ethical way possible. It’s a unique approach that focuses on optimization to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using eco-friendly, cost-effective components.
An intergovernmental panel reported that altering how we use digital technologies could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by some 20%. By changing the types of materials we use to the energy sources, we can have a lasting impact on the environment, and our future.
Why Creating a Sustainable Website Matters
Digital technologies represented a way to reduce paper use and deforestation. However, it created a new problem between excessive power consumption and frequent replacement of outdated parts.
The sharp uptick in internet usage led to ever-growing power needs. Aside from powering servers, the machines required a cool environment to function. Those cooling systems also required power, escalating the power consumption yet again.
Further, physical components simply could not keep up with technological growth, leading to obsolete parts. With few recyclable materials, the parts ended up in the junk pile.
Top Practices in Creating a Sustainable Website
You don’t have to do a complete overhaul overnight to make an impact. Start small and work one step at a time, knowing that some best practices may be easier to implement than others.
1. Choose Quality Web Hosting
Start at the beginning with the firm that hosts your site. Even if it means shifting to a new firm, choose a quality web hosting service that embraces the sustainability movement and relies on eco-friendly energy and physical components.
Look for web hosting providers that offer sustainable cloud options and use green web servers.
2. Create a Sustainable Ecommerce Setup
E-commerce is a cornerstone of many websites, but not all providers offer the same options.
When it comes to sustainability, your eCommerce provider can have a notable impact on your carbon footprint. Research your options and ask questions about the key factors.
- Does the provider offset carbon emissions from transportation?
- Is the provider carbon-neutral?
- Is the provider transparent about their practices?
Additionally, take a hard look at your policies and practices. Are there places where you could trim out a little to
- Instead of having customers ship back broken or damaged items for a return, consider accepting a picture of the item.
- Use shipping agents and distributors committed to carbon neutral practices.
- Choose eco-friendly mailing materials.
Though third-party tools can slow your website down, consider using Stripe Climate. It’s easy to enroll and lets you donate a percentage of your revenue to carbon removal.
3. Reduce Load Time
Not only does load time impact website traffic and your user experience, but it also affects your power usage. Cutting your page load time isn’t always easy, but many of the steps on this list can contribute to those efforts. Addressing your images, caching data, and streamlining your navigation can speed things up.
You can also minify some codes, especially CSS and HTML, for smoother operation and increased page load speed.
If you want to dial things up a bit, consider a content delivery network (CDN). It stores your website content on a global server network. Every time a user requests your website, the information travels from the nearest server, reducing the amount of traffic and data travel time.
4. Limit Images
High-res images look amazing and capture an audience’s attention, but they also use more energy. While you don’t have to delete all of those awesome images, you might need to be more judicious about which ones you can’t part with.
Once you narrow the list of images, take things a step further. Reducing image resolution and quality can increase load time.
5. Effective Video Usage
Videos are worse than images in terms of page load speed and energy consumption. However, low-resolution videos can replace several images and have a positive impact on your audience. If you absolutely need the content and can’t figure out a better way to present it, consider embedding the video and disabling the autoplay function.
6. Limit Use of Third-Party Tools
Third-party tools can work wonders for the user experience, and support teams behind the scenes. However, those tools contribute to hefty energy usage and slower load times.
Discuss existing third-party tools to decide what you actually need, starting with tracking.
Analytics are useful, but maybe you don’t need to track as much as you think. Teams tend to overdo it on the tracking front without actually using all the information. Plus, several of these tools overlap some features. How many ways do you actually need to track visitor behavior?
Bonus tip: you only need to use social media tracking during campaigns. Otherwise, it doesn’t help much.
7. Refine Marketing Efforts
After addressing your tracking system, it’s time to dig deeper into your existing marketing practices. While you don’t have to cease all marketing efforts to go green, some minor changes can have a major impact.
Start with your automated systems publishing tools. They seem to make your life easier because you can set it and work on other things, but those tools use a lot of energy with limited yield. How much engagement do you actually get from those tools?
Bypass Google Adsense and other display ad programs and jump on the affiliate marketing bandwagon. You might be surprised by the results in terms of website performance, carbon footprint, and bottom line.
Skip the clickbait. Polls and surveys seem fun and engaging, but they don’t always provide value to your bottom line. Plus, they use power and slow up your website.
8. Refine Site Navigation
Creating simple, concise navigation improves the user experience and makes your site more sustainable. Complicated pages use far more energy because users have to click around to find the information they need.
Reduce redirects and minimize the menus to make information quick and easy to find. Tidy navigation bars make your website look and function better while improving the user experience.
9. Caching Can Help
Caching loads website content on servers prior so it’s ready when visitors call it up. It’s ideal if you want a dynamic site but doesn’t make frequent changes. Keep in mind that you don’t have to do the full page, you can choose to cache bits and pieces, like images.
10. Consider a Static Website
Static websites might be simpler in some ways, but they use substantially less energy than dynamic websites. That’s because the static website remains on the server and sends the HTML version to the users as requested. Dynamic websites load everything when a user requests the page.
Characteristics of a Sustainable Website
What does a sustainable website look like? Consider the following characteristics and how they make a website eco-friendly.
1. Green Web Design and Development
If you want a gorgeous website, it starts with web designers. An attractive website has little to do with images and videos, even though it can make a statement.
Some of the simplest, cleanest websites attract the most attention and happen to be eco-friendly. Consider a site that’s easy to navigate, simplistic instead of overstimulating, and provides the exact information your audience needs.
Sustainable web design may implement a combination of several factors:
- Caching to reduce file sizes and load time.
- Minimal navigation with search bars and limited menus.
- Eliminate pop-ups and pointless ads.
- Use fewer images and videos, and embed those you keep.
- Make the website mobile-responsive to provide users with an exceptional experience. Your mobile version is typically simpler, so it uses less energy.
- Remove autoplay features from videos.
- Choose an eco-friendly website hosting provider.
Additionally, pay careful attention to fonts and colors because they can make a difference. It’s easier to understand how fancy, custom fonts with complex codes can alter load time and energy usage, but colors also play a role. Dark mode uses the least energy because it takes more to deliver bright colors.
2. Embrace Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a key strategy for many marketing teams, and it’s one of the key ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Investing in SEO is a solid step toward operating a user-friendly, sustainable website.
- Use long-tail keywords instead of keyword stuffing.
- Update or remove content that doesn’t add value or perform well.
- Focus on the user experience, including page load speeds and navigation.
- Limit redirects as much as possible.
- Don’t overdo it with crawling or tracking.
- Work those HTTP header tags to reduce crawling without altering rankings.
Don’t forget to practice what you preach. Some brands claim to follow green practices and do just enough to make things look legitimate, but in reality, it’s little more than smoke and mirrors. When the truth comes out, and it always does, the company’s credibility takes a massive hit.
3. Sustainable Content Strategy
Content is king across the board, and it’s one of the key ways to make a site more sustainable. Aside from following the SEO tips above, content creators can share valuable content without the background noise that bogs down the servers and draws excess energy.
- Get to the point and answer the headline and eliminate the clickbait titles.
- Write evergreen content and rework old posts before writing new pieces. It saves your website and reduces the time you spend creating content.
- Mind the images and videos by adhering to the above advice and guidelines.
- Speaking of images, skip the stock photos and GIFs that don’t add value to your piece.
Valuable information attracts the right audience, so focus on giving your customers what they want and need. Every page and post you add to your website generates carbon emissions, so it’s worthwhile to consider what you can condense or rework. Be brutally honest about your content and remove unnecessary, invaluable information to reduce pages and energy usage.
Internet usage results in more greenhouse gas emissions than landfills and wastewater combined. There’s no question we need to change how we use the internet to prepare for the future.
Thankfully, there are many ways to improve your website to reduce your carbon footprint. It doesn’t require changing things overnight but every small step is a move in the right direction, and a shift toward a more sustainable world. An eco-friendly website is about working smarter and more efficiently.
You can take key steps by working with other sustainable companies, including your web host and web design. The right partners will answer your questions and remain transparent about their practices.
Wondering where to start with web hosting? Check out our website hosting reviews with some write-ups on the top options in the industry.