02 Oct 2021
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This is how we can lower climate change with sustainable web design
It is no secret that the internet is an enormous polluter, but sadly we are not focusing enough on this problem. Because we don't focus on this matter, the internet keeps causing more and more carbon dioxide to seep into our air, and as you know: more carbon dioxide means more climate change.
Since the internet became popular, pollutions have sky-rocketed, and if the internet were a country, it would be the 6th biggest polluter in the world. When the internet pollutes this much it seems odd that no countries chose to focus on this matter. Instead, everyone seems to focus on livestock, electric cars, and forests. Maybe it's because we cannot see the pollution with our eyes, and therefore it is not noticeable. Most people don't think that they are polluting when they open their phone, chat with a friend, search for something on Google or watch a video from Netflix, but in fact, every time they interact with the internet they are causing pollution one way or the other.
In this article, we will talk about how we can slow down the climate change caused by the internet and how sustainable web design can help us achieve it.
How are climate change and the internet connected to each other?
As we briefly mentioned in the introduction: Every time you interact with a device connected to the internet, you cause pollution. There are over 1 billion websites on the internet today, and each server has to be powered on 24 hours every day to serve you. Once you request data, it is transferred from the data center through access points and all the way to your device. Depending on your location the route could be long, and each of the access points between you and the data center has to be powered on too. Last but not least, the device you are using also has to be powered on to receive data.
So, it requires many devices running on electricity to serve you the data you requested, and the problem is not that in itself. The problem is caused when data centers and access points are running on the power grid, and the power grid is using either coal energy or other types of polluting sources. In 2020 renewable energy only made up approximately 28% of the electricity used in one year and the internet was responsible for 3.7% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. That' many tons of carbon dioxide seeping into our air, causing climate change.
What is sustainable web design?
The subject of sustainable web design is big, but we will try to cover a little of it to make you understand the basics.
Every day our internet speeds get faster, and our devices get faster. Because of this, we tend to build websites that are more CPU and data-hungry when we in fact should be doing the opposite. Websites that are CPU and power-hungry use more electricity and therefore lead to more pollution and more pollution leads to more climate changes. If we instead build our websites with a lightweight design and make use of sustainable design principles we could make the World Wide Web more accessible to people living in areas with low bandwidth. Believe it or not, there are still areas using 3G.
Sustainable web design is a term used for certain environmentally friendly thoughts that you've added to your design. Sustainable web design does not come down to a few specific things but instead, it requires you to rethink your website from front end to back end. Using a dark theme, choosing SVG and WebP images over JPG and PNG, leaving out CSS animations, choosing a lightweight HTTP server, and choosing green hosting is all part of creating a sustainable website.
So in short: Sustainable web design is environmentally friendly thoughts and actions you apply to your web design to make the environmental impact smaller and help lower climate changes.
How can I make my website sustainable?
Below you will find a list of topics that you quickly can apply to your website to make it more sustainable. There are endless things you can do, but we have gathered some that make a big impact and hopefully help to slow down climate change.
Green web hosting.
One of the best things you can do to make your website more sustainable is to move it to a host running on 100% green renewable energy. More and more data centers are switching to renewable energy, but there are still many out there running on coal energy and other types of polluting sources.
A green web host or data center is a company running 100% renewable energy from sun, wind, or water. It can be hard to choose the right web host, and often you will be met with hard certificate terms no one really understands. But keep your tongue straight and do some research before choosing your data center. Some are running renewable energy while others buy carbon points, and if you get stuck with one that simply buys carbon points you are not really making a difference except contributing to climate change.
Green web hosting is a large topic, but we have made an article explaining it all, so you know what to look out for. In the article, you will also find a list of green web hosting companies to choose from: https://sustainablewww.org/principles/what-is-green-web-hosting-and-why-should-you-use-it-in-2021
Switch JPG and PNG images out with SVG and WebP.
Another great way of instantly making your website more sustainable is by switching out all of your JPG and PNG with SVG and WebP images. JPG and PNG formats are large, and therefore they require your visitors to download about 40% more data compared to using WebP.
WebP is an amazing format that is widely supported by browsers, and best of all, you can compress your images without losing any picture quality. This means your pictures will stay sharp, but the file size will be greatly reduced.
It is very easy to get started using WebP and to make it even easier for you we made an article explaining what WebP is and how you can convert your images right away: https://sustainablewww.org/principles/how-to-convert-your-images-to-webp-or-avif
Switch to a lightweight HTTP web server.
Behind almost every website there is an HTTP server or a reverse proxy listening for requests. But did you know that some of these are heavy and require lots of RAM and CPU?
Choosing a lightweight server can speed up your website significantly and also improve pollution caused by people visiting your website. Often HTTP servers come bloated with functions that you will never use, but there are a few open-source projects available that only gives exactly what you need. You will of course still have the option to add functions if needed, but by starting with a bare-bone server you have the potential to help lowering climate change caused by your website.
In this article, we are giving you 5 of the most lightweight HTTP web servers to use together with Node.js: https://sustainablewww.org/principles/5-most-lightweight-and-eco-friendly-node-js-framework-http-servers
Switch to dark-mode as standard.
It is still widely popular to use a white theme, and most often you will see these light designs on websites. But did you know that by choosing a dark theme you can lower your website's environmental impact on your visitors?
In 2018 over 1 billion smartphones were using OLED displays. OLED is a technology where the screen is only using power when something is showing. So if parts of your screen are pitch-black, it won't be using any of your batteries in that area. As you can imagine, this means if you apply a dark theme to your website it will significantly lower the amount of energy your visitor's devices use while visiting your website. Depending on whether your visitors power their devices using coal energy, it could help to slow down climate change.
If you are interested in knowing more about how much power you potentially can make your visitors save, please read our article where we dive into the topic: https://sustainablewww.org/principles/dark-mode-lowers-power-consumption-on-oled-devices
By now you will have a general understanding of the environmental impact the internet has on the current climate changes we experience. You also know a few of the ways you can instantly make your website more sustainable and why this is so important.
The internet has come to stay, but we still need to learn how to use it more efficiently, and we believe sustainable web design is the way to go. Please consider applying sustainable designing methods to your website, and if you need inspiration you can look through our principles archive.
If you are interested in learning more about sustainable web design and the environmental impact the internet has on our climate, please consider reading this article where we look into the 6 best books about sustainable web design: https://sustainablewww.org/principles/the-6-best-books-about-sustainable-web-design
I am a self-taught and highly passionate web developer currently living in Sweden, where I use my skills to make the internet a better place through ethical and sustainable web design.