Why environmentally friendly practices should be common sense in web design

Websites are growing in popularity and every day more and more people join the internet in some way. Some create new online businesses, some move excising businesses online and some simply join the hype by starting to use the internet. 

We can’t deny that the internet has made all of our life’s easier in some way whether it’s finding information, customers, entertaining ourselves, or keeping in touch with family around the world. But with the internet comes a dark side like with so many other things. Studies have shown that if the internet was a country it would be the 6th biggest polluter in the world, and it is predicted that by 2025 it will be the 4th biggest right below the US, China, and India.

In this article, we will talk about why environmentally friendly practices should be common sense when creating a web design instead of branding it as a special niche.

Why sustainable and environmentally friendly methods should be common sense

To get directly to the point we will start by talking about why environmentally friendly and sustainable methods should be common sense instead of trying to commercialize them as a niche. 

The world of web design and development has taken a turn in the wrong direction. When creating new websites we are more concerned with getting results quickly than doing things the right way, and that often leads to bad choices. In fact, even when redesigning our own website we were about to make an enormous mistake when we included the Google Material icon library as a style sheet in our project. We thought that it would be a lightweight style sheet that would give us quick access to a large number of icons, but it turned out to be much heavier than the alternative. Our page load went from 300KB to a little more than 2MB just because we added this style sheet. So to fix the problem we decided to download each individual icon as an SVG file and the outcome is that we saved 2MB on each page load just because of that change. 2MB might not sound like a lot, but if you take 10.000 visitors and calculate the amount of unnecessary data requested it will become approximately 20GB.

Setting a page weight budget is a great way to make your website more sustainable. Click here to check our article about how you can set your own weight budget.

The example above shows the problem that our design world has taken today. Instead of finding the best solution we find the fastest and tend to look away from the consequences. It can be argued that 2MB won’t make a difference, but when 1 billion websites are doing the same it makes a tremendous difference to the environment. In fact mistakes like these not only make a difference for the environment, it also makes data and information less accessible to people in areas with slower internet. It might be hard to believe, but there are still many people out there living their day-to-day life with a slow 3G connection. Imagine how long time it would take for them to load a website where each page is at least 2MB compared to a website that is 4-5 times as small?

Why are we advertising sustainable websites?

The trend that is seen right now is that companies advertise sustainability and environmentally friendly design to try to spread awareness and lure in the customers who already know about the problem. We believe that the lack of awareness and care is creating a market for this when it in fact should be common sense. But before we can create a standard practice that everyone follows we need to spread awareness.

Who has the responsibility?

It can be argued that both the customer and the web development company should have the responsibility of building a product that puts people and the planet first, but we believe that in the end, the responsibility lies with the company designing and developing the product. The company creating the product is often specialized in the field and should know the best ways to create their customer’s product. After all, there is a reason why the customer sought professional help in the first place, so placing the responsibility on them would be wrong.

If the problem is with the developers and designers, why aren’t they doing it then? It cannot be cost and time since it has been proven many times that it does not cost more to develop a sustainable and environmentally friendly website compared to a heavy one. But if it’s not the cost and time what is it then? We believe that the problem could be caused by not having a global standardization that dictates the standards in web design and development. Such standardization would helpd to create guidelines that would create websites that put people and the planet first.

There is a project today trying to create such standardization and it is called The sustainable web manifesto. Please drop by their website and sign up to participate.

Should I switch web agency to a sustainable company?

Whether you should switch or not is completely up to you, but if you care about our planet and the people living on it you should consider choosing a company with the same values as you. 

Besides having the same values it can also give you other benefits such as higher search ranking on search engines such as Google and Bing, faster loading times, happier customers, lower pollution, and a great image. Doing something actively for the environment is always great and in fact, many customers choose the green option compared to the gray (Especially if it doesn’t cost them more). 

How to get started with sustainable web design

To remove the bandaid right away we will start by saying that there are thousands of ways you can make a website more sustainable and environmentally friendly, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Luckily there are many super easy and quick fixes you can do to get you a great step in the right direction and underneath here we have listed just a few.

  • Make sure your website is hosted in a data center using 100% renewable energy.
  • Optimize your images to formats like WebP and size them correctly for the web.
  • Use fonts saved in a WOFF or WOFF2 format. Preferably using the standard fonts.
  • Use a lightweight HTTP server.
  • Remove unnecessary CSS styling and JavaScript.

The list is long, but to make things easier for you we have created a free sustainable web design checklist you can download. Follow the link below to be redirected to the checklist or click the promotion we have added at the bottom of this article.

Click to download your copy of the sustainable web design checklist.

Are you curious to see if your website is environmentally friendly?

If you are curious to see whether your website is environmentally friendly or just where it is on the scale, then please consider reading our article about how to measure your website’s carbon footprint. The article is diving into some of the challenges there are measuring a carbon footprint and most importantly it is giving you the link to two totally free services that can measure your website’s carbon footprint for you.

Click here to get to the article.

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Michael Andersen
Michael Andersen

Michael Andersen is the author of Sustainable Web Design In 20 Lessons and the co-founder of Sustainable WWW (World-wide-web), an organization teaching sustainable practices. With a passion for web design and the environment, Michael solves puzzles to make the internet more sustainable.

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