How to make your website greener

person typing on MacBook keyboard
Image Source: Glenn Carstens-Peters, Unsplash

By Michelle Miller

A note from Thrive:

 

Today we’re featuring an interview from Michelle Miller, who is the Owner of Minty Made, a sustainable branding and web design studio and the Founder of The Green Marketing Academy™.

 

Michelle will be sharing ways that we can design and build our websites to be more environmentally friendly … and as a result, reduce our digital carbon footprint. I particularly love her tips for doing so without extensive tech skills or a big budget!

 

What is sustainable web design and why is it important?

The common misconception within the digital marketing space in general is that it isn’t generating a physical footprint, so it must be automatically better for the environment, right? This is actually not the case.

 

Every time someone searches on Google or types in your website address, large amounts of data are being transferred back and forth between data centers and devices, which contributes to the digital carbon footprint. Like the standard carbon footprint that we can see in the form of air pollution, the digital footprint considers your personal emissions and environmental impact from your digital activities. 

 

This has actually been quite the controversial topic over the last few years. According to The Drum, the more that technology and infrastructure improves within our data centers, energy itself becomes more efficient and thus, results in a lower digital footprint. “However the infrastructure efficiency is projected to progress about 13% per year, much lower than the 40% annual growth in data use that is expected, not to mention the emissions that we’re already dealing with” says author Gabrielle Persson.

 

One way in which a majority of businesses can cut down on their contribution to the digital footprint is by taking steps to make their websites greener.

What are some of the fundamentals of sustainable web design?

A few of the most basic rules and ways that are relatively easy to implement with low effort and cost are as follows:

1. Switch to a green website host

Unlike reducing data transfer, switching to a green host does not require any changes to the website itself and can be done quickly and easily, enabling us to make significant reductions to our website emissions with minimal hassle. Switching to a green web host is the single easiest way to reduce website emissions. 

 

Be aware that some website hosts don’t use 100% renewable energy and use carbon offsets instead. If it’s important to you to choose a host that is run entirely on renewable energy, make sure to ask this question when researching potential hosting sites. The Green Web Foundation has a directory that you can use to find a green website host in your area – this is the best place to start!

“Switching to a green web host is the single easiest way to reduce website emissions.“

2. Reduce the amount of video on your site

Ensure that auto-play is disabled to prevent videos from playing for visitors that don’t choose to watch them or consider linking a video instead of displaying a preview directly on the page.

3. Compress your images

Reducing emissions can be as simple as limiting the number of images on each page, though as a website designer myself, I advocate for using images to tell your brand or organization’s story. 

 

Images are the single largest contributors to page weight. Citing Sustainable Web Design by Tom Greenwood, one of the first books I read on green web design, “The more images you use and the larger those image files, the more data needs to be transferred and the more energy is required.”

 

Using SVG graphics instead of formats like JPEG, PNG and GIF can help decrease image size, and using a compression tool like TinyPNG allows you to reduce it even more, without losing image quality. According to the HTTP Archive, images make up almost 75% of a total web page’s weight. This was the first thing I did on my own website, and it cut my page size in half!

4. Limit the amount of custom fonts and code you use

Another easy way to ensure that your website isn’t bogged down with unnecessary weight is by limiting the number of custom fonts and added code customization that you use. The best practice is to only use custom fonts for headers and opt for system fonts for secondary headers and paragraph styles. If you’re a web developer, be diligent with cleaning up your CSS and javascript code and find ways to minify or condense, if possible.

How do you know if your website is not sustainable?

The first telltale sign that doesn’t require a fancy carbon emission calculator is to run a quick speed test on your site. Sometimes, you’ll even be able to measure this by simply visiting your website. 

 

If there is any delay in loading or if it is loading slower than you’d like it to, this indicates that there may be oversized photos, code or other factors weighing it down. To get a more specific breakdown of where your website is carrying the bulk of its weight, my go-to website emissions calculator is from Digital Beacon. The results show you quite a bit of detail of where you can begin taking action:

A screenshot of the website emissions calculator from Digital Beacon
Image Source: Digital Beacon

Is there an ROI on designing a website more sustainably?

Though there isn’t a standard ROI to expect when adopting green web design practices, the beauty of implementing them is that they will increase the loading speed of your website, thereby improving your SEO, leading to more organic traffic.

 

 

The BBC found they lost an additional 10% of users for every additional second their site took to load. Another organization, COOK, increased conversions by 7%, decreased bounce rates by 7%, and increased pages per session by 10% when they reduced average page load time by 850 milliseconds. Website loading speed is a crucial factor when it comes to bounce rate, visitor retention and most important of all, conversion.

Are there any "easy" or low-cost ways to apply sustainable web design principles if you can't afford a website redesign?

Absolutely! A few ways that you can start reducing your website’s carbon footprint today are by making sure that you compress all images on your website, delete apps, plugins or extensions that you aren’t using and get rid of old pages on your website that are no longer active or needed.

 

If you are thinking about redesigning your website in the near future and want to hire a team that is well-versed in green web design, feel free to reach out to us at Minty Made.

“Compress images on your website, delete apps, plugins or extensions you aren't using and get rid of old pages on your site that are no longer active.“

How can people learn more about this?

Going green with your website is just one way that businesses can cut down on their digital carbon and physical footprint.

 

To learn about more ways that your business can implement green marketing strategies, check out The Green Marketing Academy™. We offer courses, certifications and a community designed to help individuals and businesses shift their practices to be more sustainable, ethical, and inclusive for people and the planet.

About the author

Michelle Miller is the Owner & Creative Director of Minty Made, a full-service branding and web design studio based in Seattle, Washington. She is also the Founder of The Green Marketing Academy™, an online course, certification and training program that helps businesses, marketing professionals and teams adopt sustainable, ethical and inclusive marketing practices.

 

Prior to running her branding and web design studio, Michelle spent over a decade in corporate marketing and sales. During this time, she witnessed how much waste was produced and how many unnecessary dollars were spent on ineffective marketing methods that also had a detrimental effect on the planet. Not to mention, the constant burnout that came along with this working environment. 

 

Michelle’s mission is to share her knowledge and experience on what we can do differently to grow a profitable business, lessen our impact and keep our own energy sustainable as professionals, marketing teams and business owners.

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