Your slow website is killing the planet
By: Kaleigh Bulford
September 1, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 mins
I’ve launched my fair share of websites. I know how to craft website copy that converts, how to build a great user experience, and how to optimize for search engines. But one thing I’ve never considered is how websites might impact the environment.
I’m guessing most people haven’t thought much about it, but with all the recent wildfires, extreme weather, and gloomy news about climate change, maybe we should.
I’m not a doctor saving lives or a photojournalist snapping photos on the front lines. I’m marketing things. While some might say my work actually makes the world worse (obviously I don’t agree, considering how many of my clients aim to make the world a better place) there are small ways I can contribute to positive change.
When it comes to the environment, let’s first consider the impact of our work.
The internet and energy consumption
We’re in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, made possible by the internet and digital transformation. Our modern day-to-day depends on the internet—but at what cost?
For the planet, the pandemic has been a double-edged sword. We saw dramatic improvements in air quality when the lockdown was at its tightest and many of us were no longer commuting to work. We also saw a huge uptick in internet traffic, with businesses pivoting to Zoom calls and digital collaboration. Stores closed and people turned to online shopping in record numbers, with Statistics Canada reporting a 110% year-over-year increase in May 2020 while hitting a record $3.9 billion in sales that same month. Lockdown aside, our addiction to the internet will only continue to grow as will its impact on the environment.
With internet traffic expected to double by 2022, the International Energy Agency projects communications technology will be responsible for over 20% of total energy consumption and could emit up to 5.5% of the world’s carbon emissions by 2025. Yikes.
So, what can you do about it?
Assess your website
You can’t fix something if you don’t know what’s broken. To work towards a greener website, start with Ecograder.com.
Improve what you can
Choose a green web host
There are different levels of green hosting. The host we use, Pantheon, purchases renewable energy credits. If you wanted to go even more eco-friendly, find a host that is 100% powered by clean or renewable energy.
Reduce extra code
You don’t need a developer to get started on this. Get a quick win by removing plugins you’re not using anymore (you should be doing this regularly regardless of the environment) and extra tracking tags in Google Tag Manager. There are also plenty of plugins and converters that can minify your code.
Use multimedia selectively
The web is a visual place where big, beautiful imagery has become a keystone aesthetic. To make for a greener website, try inputting large images with CSS and avoid using too many videos
Optimize those images with WebP
If you’ve tested your website with PageSpeed Insights, you’ve probably noticed that one of the quickest ways to improve load speed is by using ‘next-gen’ image formats like WebP. If you’re on WordPress, version 5.8 supports WebP image files natively, which are on average 30% smaller than JPEGs or PNGs.
Not sure how to convert your images to WebP? Try this Photoshop plugin from Adobe. Not using Photoshop? There are lots of converters available online along with these WordPress plugins.
Tiny-fy JPGs and PNGs
If for whatever reason you need to use JPGs or PNGs, you can run your files through TinyJPG or TinyPNG to substantially reduce their size. Alternatively, you can use an image optimization plugin like SMUSH on your WordPress site.
Simplify your site structure
Don’t make it hard for your users to find the information they need. Not only is this a bad user experience, but it causes users to load more pages, and therefore use more energy.
It’s not all bad news
Big companies like Google are investing in clean energy and publicly reporting on their progress and findings. Hopefully, this will set a standard for others to follow.
What’s good for user experience is good for the planet. Win-win!
It’s rare that an eco-friendly website is high on the list of priorities (if it’s even on the list at all) but what about improving the user experience? With 53% of mobile users leaving websites that take over 3 seconds to load, having a quick-loading site can be a real game-changer. Luckily for you and the planet, most of these green tips result in doing just that.
With marketers at the forefront of shaping much of the internet, maybe I can make a positive impact after all–one website at a time.