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Over the past few years it’s been great to see environmentally conscious businesses making efforts to reduce their impact on the environment.

Plastic-free packaging is becoming more commonplace in shops, remote working has reduced travel for many employees and carbon offsetting has helped businesses plant more trees.

But now the question arises: what next? Which other business practices harm the environment, and what should we do about it?

Our digital carbon footprint should be an obvious consideration, but it is difficult to quantify the impact of intangible digital products. It’s not like your phone is spitting out carbon monoxide whenever you load up a website.

However, that doesn’t mean online activities generate no carbon emissions. When you do anything online, from searching or visiting a website to streaming video content, energy is used by data centres, network infrastructure and your device.

Even sending emails uses energy! Maybe it’s time to replace the notice to “think twice before printing this email” with “think twice before replying to this email”?

To be honest, wouldn’t life be that much better with fewer emails in it?

So, how eco-friendly is your website? Realistically, the most eco-friendly website is one that doesn’t exist at all. Our first thought shouldn’t be how we can reduce the impact of our website on the environment, but in fact whether the thing we’re creating is needed at all.

That said, I’m a big believer in progress over perfection. Here are my thoughts on reducing the impact of our online business activities on the environment, starting with an eco-friendly website design.

You may also find my guide to Reducing your Digital Carbon Footprint useful.

What is the carbon footprint of my website?

A good starting point for testing the carbon footprint of your website is the Website Carbon Calculator made by WholeGrain Digital.

Screenshot of the Website Carbon Calculator.
The Website Carbon Calculator by Wholegrain Digital.

It’s a nifty tool that helps you estimate the carbon footprint of your web page. For example, the PJWD home page generates 0.25g of CO2 each time it is loaded.

Whilst not a lot, over the course of a year, that one page is roughly responsible for:

  • Creating 9kg of CO2 equivalent (the same as boiling 1200 cups of tea!).
  • Emitting the same amount of carbon that half a tree absorbs in a year.
  • Using 20kWh of energy, which is enough electricity to drive an electric car 132 miles.

Apparently this means the PJWD website is cleaner than 82% of sites tested on the tool. It’s a good start, but clearly there’s still lots more work to be done!

If testing your site on the Website Carbon Calculator, note that the result works off an average of 10,000 views per month, so you will need to do your own sums based on the actual traffic your site gets.

Choose green hosting

The Green Web Foundation website. PaulJardine.co.uk is hosted green.
The Green Web Foundation. Ironically, adding the badge to your site would make your website slightly less green due to loading the extra image in!

Before making any eco-improvements to your website, you should first think about the servers it’s running on.

When it comes to website hosting, I find the primary considerations tend to be around security and reliability.

However, by switching to an environmentally-friendly web hosting company, you can significantly cut the carbon footprint of your site. These are hosting providers that use renewable energy to power their servers, commit to carbon offsetting schemes and take care to dispose of old hardware responsibly.

The Green Web Foundation is a great tool to check if your web host operates sustainably.

You can also check out some more of my tips for choosing website hosting.

Make your website more eco-friendly

As regular readers know, I am passionate about making websites super speedy. Fast-loading websites are better for users, better for search engines, and also better for the environment as they require less energy to load.

Here’s a few ways you can speed up your website.

  • Reduce the number of files that need to be loaded onto each page, such as images, videos, and scripts that run under the hood. Only include files that are useful and add value to your visitor. Do you really need that live chat plugin? Probably not! Free tools such as GTmetrix can help identify how fast your website loads.
  • Avoid third-party scripts – whilst convenient to add to your site, services such as YouTube embeds, review widgets and social feeds will bloat your website considerably (mostly because they are riddled with gross tracking scripts).
  • Clean code, intelligent font choices, using the latest PHP version and blocking bots are all small tweaks that you can make to improve your site’s eco credentials.
  • Some improvements to the user experience can also make your site more energy efficient. Don’t let people waste time on your site. Make website navigation clear, so your visitors can find and do what they need to quickly and easily.
  • Make sure your search listings are clear, so people know what they will get when they click on them. There’s no point attracting visitors to your website who are just going to bounce off again.

Concerned about your website’s page speed? Get more tips in Why is my website so slow?

Your extended digital carbon footprint

Let’s not forget that your digital carbon footprint for your business does not end at your website.

You should also take into account the electronic resources being used by things such as:

  • Your social media accounts – your posts across different social platforms also require energy to exist. Are your old posts still relevant or useful to your audience? Check out tools such as TweetDelete which can automatically delete old tweets over a certain age.
  • Cloud storage and backups – regularly clear out anything you no longer need.
  • Video calls – whilst video conferencing is great for reducing travel emissions, video calls still use a lot of energy. Could a phone call suffice instead?
  • Email subscriptions – ever find yourself hoarding newsletters you never intend to read? Just hit unsubscribe.
  • Old emails – I recently went on a strangely liberating adventure clearing out my old emails.

Just because we have the technology to stash everything forever doesn’t mean you should. Consider deleting anything that is no longer useful.

Personally I feel like these days I spend less time posting new content and more time removing old blogs or social posts that is no longer useful than posting up new stuff.

If you want to take some steps towards reducing the environmental impact of your digital activities, I recommend starting small. If you’d like to focus on your website and want some help to make your site leaner and greener, you can book a power hour with me during which we can identify where you can have the biggest impact.

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