Climate protection and your own website

Posted inElisabeth writing, sustainabilityTags:

The climate crisis is ubiquitous. We are discussing cars and garbage, consumption and CO2 emissions. What people don’t talk about so much is the fact that the internet as we know it today actually contributes it’s share to our CO2 footprint: At a guess, “the internet” is responsible for about 10% of the world’s energy consumption. A large part of this energy unfortunately is produced by burning coal.

And it’s obvious that the demand for energy will even increase over the next couple of years: More people will get access to the internet – which is a good thing! Streaming providers, who already use up a disproportionate share of the energy, are on the rise and will probably gain even more viewers as data transmission gets faster and faster.

Our biggest problem: Consumption

For decades we were told that consuming is something desirable. The assessment of how sound our economy is is directly linked to our consumption as a society. This means, highly simplified: The more new things people are able to obtain the better they are off. And the better off is the economy as well.

Joseph Stiglitz* explains in an article in The Guardian, that that is a devastating way to look at things: A lot of parameters are just not taken into account. For instance, using up ressources without considering the consequences as well as all kinds of socio-economic questions.

* US-American economist, one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001; also known as the author of “Globalization and Its Discontents”

If we measure the wrong thing, we will do the wrong thing. If our measures tell us everything is fine when it really isn’t, we will be complacent.

Joseph Stiglitz, The Guardian

Consuming consciously is something that’s extremely hard for us. Our brains are still triggered by the same stimuli as back in the stone age. Today, on Black Friday, that’s especially obvious. We are being pestered by a plethora of dazzling deals, amazing bargains we will never be able to get again. Black Friday is not over yet, but reading international newspapers you can already learn that it’s been a record breaking day.
In the Swedish newspaper “Svenska Dagbladet” a journalist asked which Friday each one of us celebrates, Black Friday or Fridays for Future. Consumption and climate protection seem to contradict each other.

The good news: We are able to do something

In some way or the other, we will always consume. But we can be more aware doing so: In real life, that can mean to buy products that have a smaller CO2 footprint than others, be it because they make do with less ressources or by their longevity.

The same principle can be applied using the internet: Consuming with more intention – not using YouTube videos if we actually want to listen to music, interacting more consciously with social media platforms, or not turning on video for our next Skype call if we don’t really need it.

How does that concern my website?

Your website is also part of this internet and needs energy. There is the server that delivers the website to the people who want to look at it, as well as all those servers along the way that make sure that people actually get to your website. In short: The more light-weight a website is the less energy it needs per page view. So it is our responsibility how much energy it actually uses.

Loading fast = less energy

A light-weight website is one that is loading really fast.

That means that only a small amount of code needs to be delivered in order to display the website in the browser. How we build a website has a large impact here. WordPress in itself is rather light-weight. But who actually has a WordPress website with no additional plugins? Depending on the choice of theme and additional functionalities, we are able to keep things fairly slender – or create a bloated website monster that is barely moving.

Apart from the code, image sizes often pose a problem: People are unsure about how big an image needs to be and therefore usually implement far too big versions.
Have you ever tried to load a website displaying a huge header image, using a bad data connection? Well, I usually am far too impatient for the wait. If I don’t need it desperately, I will abandon it.

Additionally, it might be worth thinking about how many elements you really need on each page to make sure that visitors find what they are looking for. When people get around more easily they take less time. But they also are more content with the result: I often get pretty frustrated when I am looking for some kind of information but don’t find it, going back and forth, checking different pages because I feel I had seen that particular information somewhere.

Light-weight = well thought through

A light-weight website is a good website. It actually improves your ranking with Google – website performance has been gaining more and more significance over the past years.

When talking about light-weight I don’t mean “empty”. Sure, if a website has no content it can be extremely light-weight. But that’s not what I am talking about!

A light-weight website needs to be well thought through. It features a clear, consistent structure. Visitors find their way around easily.

That usually does mean that content needs to be omitted. But most of all it means to work on a clear structure, to assess content elements according to their significance and to prepare them with the needs of the web in mind: It really is not necessary to keep everything on the front page.
Maybe it helps to see your front page like the blurb and the table of content of a book: What is this all about and which kind of information can I expect to find?

Taking the technical side into account, light-weight certainly means to scrutinize which plugins and theme we are using. Chance is, we don’t need all those plugins. Sometimes we even forgot to delete some we had only meant to check out.

In the end, this also means that your website becomes more sustainable because it is easier to maintain now. These kind of website can live years and years to come. The only important aspect to keep in mind: In order to reach longevity for your website it needs to be kept up-to-date technically. Occasionally, we also need to exchange elements that are no longer supported (e.g. plugins) for modern, well-kept ones.

Conclusion: Protecting the climate and good usability go hand in hand

To take a critical look at your own website and to trim it down can be hard work. It’s essential to question things, be rather critical with our own stuff and sometimes create new elements instead of the old, comfy ones.

At the end of the day, though, it can be win-win for all parties involved:
When a website sheds some ballast, it usually get’s more attractive for search engines. It gets a cleaner structure which helps our visitors to find their way around more easily. And, what I haven’t even mentioned so far: It probably is much more accessible now for people who depend on assistive technology.

If you now add a hosting company that is set on providing as climate friendly hosting as possible you definitely are on a good way.