What is sustainable web design?

Dan Hinton


Sustainable web design is about putting people and the planet first. The internet emits around 3.8% of all global carbon emissions and this figure is only growing as each year passes.

The problem with this is the issue compounds each year, as more websites and data are hosted, as well as ever hungrier tech advances requiring higher energy consumption.

Up until recent years, little to no thought has been put towards the environmental consequences of more digital content. In its purest form, websites are data, and data needs to be hosted on servers and these servers require electricity to function. It really is stating the obvious that the more websites and servers there are, the more electricity is required.

In western countries, some headway is being made in the use of renewable energy sources but there is still a long way to go. This is also very much a global problem, not just a national one.

So coming back round to the question…

What is sustainable web design and how can it help?

Good sustainable web design is about designing and building a website with an awareness of its carbon footprint. With this new found awareness, choices in design and development practises can be made to help lower the footprint.

The less data your website uses, the lower its carbon emissions will be. There are some great web resources out there that allow you to test your website, finding out roughly how much CO2 is emitted. The pick of the bunch right now is Beacon – https://digitalbeacon.co/

Simplicity is a keyword within any effective sustainable web design. It’s about simplicity of message, how you distil the essence of your brand onto the web without anything superfluous or unnecessary. It’s about two simple things. Firstly the simplicity of the design – choosing to use fewer show-off, full page slideshows for example. And secondly, the simplicity of development choices. Writing lean and well written code that does away with inflated libraries and only loads in data when needed.

One approach that is being adopted by many is the concept of ‘carbon credits’ within a new website design and build. The gold standard that we should be striving towards as website owners, is for any given page to produce as little grams of CO2 per page load. What this metric is will vary depending on the nature of your website, but a good target to aim for is between 0.3-1g of CO2 per page load.

Through the use of carbon credits, you could give your 10 page website, 10g’s of credit for the entire site. This could mean you allow for one page, such as the homepage to be slightly heavier, say 2g, as long as you are able to claw back the credits on the other pages

There is also scope to offset the carbon emissions through carbon capture initiatives.

As a business we’re pushing harder into good sustainable web design from 2022 onwards and we hope it’s something you’ll be joining us in doing so too. Take a look at one of our projects for Arc, to see how great design and sustainably minded websites can be married together.

It won’t be long until sustainable web design becomes simply, web design.