In this article, we look at how slimming-down and optimising websites is yet another way that businesses are helping to cut their carbon emissions.

Websites And Carbon Emissions

According to the Eco-Friendly Web Alliance, the internet has a significant carbon footprint, contributing to 3.7 per cent of global emissions – more than the aviation industry!  

The amount of carbon emissions created by a website and its hosting can vary widely depending on several factors, such as the size of the website, the amount of traffic it receives, and the type of hosting service used. That said, a study by the Website Carbon Calculator found that the average website produces 1.76 grams of CO2 per page view.  

An example of how traffic can drive this figure up comes from Eco-Friendly Web Alliance figures which show that a website with 10,000 monthly page views and an average of 1g of carbon per page view can create around 100 kg of carbon per year and this figure could rise to 1 tonne for the year with 100k monthly page views. 

Sources Of Carbon Emissions For Websites

How much carbon a website produces includes the emissions from the user’s device, the network infrastructure used to deliver the content, plus the servers that host the website. However, the carbon footprint can be significantly higher for large websites that receive a lot of traffic or use resource-intensive features such as video-streaming.

There are also certain elements of a website that can drive up its carbon footprint such as large unoptimsed images, JavaScript, heavy animations, plus too many plugins. There is also an argument that today’s faster internet connections have caused web designers to think less about optimising the size of the files they use, thereby adding to the overall website carbon emissions problem. 

How Do You Know How Much Your Website’s Carbon Footprint Is?

Although it’s not possible to work this out exactly, knowing the average emissions per page view and multiplying the number of monthly page views by this figure gives a rough estimate of the amount of carbon produced by a website.  

There are tools and methods available to help indicate how ‘green’ your website may be and how you could bring the carbon footprint down.  For example, using the Green Web Foundation tool is a way of checking if your website has green hosting: 

Ways to Reduce Your Website’s Carbon Footprint

Known ways to reduce a website’s carbon footprint include: 

– Using efficient website design. One of the main causes of carbon footprint from websites is the energy used by servers to load and display web pages. By using efficient website design practices, such as optimising images and using efficient code, businesses can reduce the amount of energy required to load their website. 

– Choosing a green web hosting provider. Businesses can choose a web hosting provider that uses renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, to power their servers. This can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of a website. 

– Minimising website resources. Businesses can reduce the carbon footprint of their website by minimising the number of resources it requires to load. For example, they can reduce the number of plugins, optimise images, and compress files to reduce their size. Making sure that videos on the website that play automatically are set to only play when the viewer chooses to watch them, using a zoom effect for product image rollovers rather than a new image appearing on rollover, and using a static image on the home page rather than several full-screen photos set to a cycle can also help. 

– Using a Content Delivery Network (CDN). A CDN can distribute website content across multiple servers around the world, reducing the energy required to load a website by reducing the distance data must travel. 

– Encouraging website visitors to reduce their carbon footprint. Businesses can educate their website visitors on ways to reduce their carbon footprint, such as by choosing green energy providers, reducing energy usage, and minimising resource consumption. 

– Measuring, offsetting, and insetting carbon emissions. Businesses can measure the carbon footprint of their website and offset the emissions through investments in renewable energy or other carbon reduction projects. Businesses can also work to decarbonise their own value chains to do more good rather than doing less harm, i.e. carbon insetting (as opposed to offsetting). 

Green Energy

In addition to choosing a web host that uses green, renewable, and sustainable energy, other ways that green energy can be used to reduce the carbon footprint of a website could include: 

– Renewable energy certificates (RECs).
RECs allow businesses to offset the carbon emissions produced by their website by purchasing certificates that represent the generation of renewable energy. This way, the emissions produced by the website are effectively offset by the generation of renewable energy, reducing the overall carbon footprint. 

– On-site renewable energy generation.
If a business has the resources and infrastructure, they can generate their own renewable energy on-site using solar panels or wind turbines. This way, the energy used to power the website is generated from renewable sources, which reduces the carbon footprint of the website. 

– Virtual power purchase agreements (VPPAs).
A VPPA is a financial agreement between a business and a renewable energy provider, where the business agrees to purchase renewable energy at a fixed price over a certain period of time. This way, the business can ensure that the energy used to power its website is generated from renewable sources, which reduces the carbon footprint of the website. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

While many people may have heard of how data centres are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, many businesses are unlikely to have given much thought to the carbon footprint of their website and may consider it less of priority than the carbon footprint of other parts of their operations. However, collectively, a web full of heavy websites is responsible for surprisingly large carbon emissions. In the age of fast internet connections, WhatsApping large photos to each-other and trusting design-heavy website building platforms to make websites that also act as online shops vital to the life of the business, optimising website elements and thoughts of slimming down websites have been lost in the need to compete.

It makes sense that choosing a green web host could be a good way to reduce the carbon footprint of a business website but for many businesses it’s probably a case of striking a balance between giving the right experience to customers on the website, keeping up with the competition online, and making things slimmer where it can be done so in the light of these factors. That said, having a low carbon footprint for a website may be something that businesses may want to advertise as it has value to increasingly environmentally conscious consumers, plus it is very much in keeping with an overall business push to reduce carbon emissions all the way along the value chain. 

By Mike Knight

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