Before diving into the final calculation tools it might be helpful to recap on how we got here and why making an effort to create sustainable websites is important. “The internet is essentially the largest coal-fired machine on the entire planet,” says Jack Amend, the co-founder of Web Neutral Project, an organisation that helps tackle websites’ carbon footprints. This is because the internet depends on large amounts of energy to function and be powered, and every bit of information that you interact with, upload or create gets stored in these data centres which are made up of thousands of computers and servers.
In fact, if the IT sector were a country, it would come in 3rd in terms of global energy demand behind the US and China. There are approximately 1.13 billion websites in the world with a new website being built every three seconds. Collectively, the web accounts for 2% of all greenhouse gas emissions which is equivalent to the entire country of Germany, the sixth highest polluting country in the world.
With this knowledge, it makes sense that companies should consider shifting towards more simple and stripped-down websites that emit less carbon per page load and should switch to green web hosts (companies whose operations are powered by renewable energy) which according to Vineeta Greenwood, account director at design agency Wholegrain Digital, is one of the most effective ways to reduce a website’s carbon footprint.
Working in the design industry means that it is not always easy to comply with all of these sustainable methods as we are always striving to create new and exciting work for our clients. However, we should be able to use the knowledge we have gained on this topic to make a conscious effort to implement some of these practices into our digital process to reduce the carbon emissions of our creative digital work. The Lowww Directory displays great examples of how websites can be light-weight while not having to sacrifice on design.
Not only can we use sustainable tools while creating the design and development of our digital work but we can also use tools to measure how sustainable the end result is, with the hopes of making improvements and learning from our processes.
Recent technologies such as Chat GPT and other AI tools can be used to refactor code. Code refactoring involves making improvements to existing code without altering its external functionality in order to increase performance. These AI tools are able to perform this task after a developer has created their code and create concise, cleaner and more efficient code that processes in a shorter time. The faster a page loads, the less energy and carbon it takes to perform this task.
The main tool, however, would be a carbon calculator which allows you to simply input your URL and test how much carbon emission is generated based on a few key pieces of data. These include, how long it takes to load your webpage and the amount energy is used for data transfer, the energy used by your network and devices, the energy used by the data centre (and checking if the data centre is using green energy) and overall website traffic. All of this information together gives you a pretty good idea of the emissions that the average user produces when visiting a certain site.
Here are a few different tools available to help measure and reduce your websites carbon emissions.
Website Carbon Calculator created by Wholegrain Digital which tests only the url that you have entered (not the full website) however you can test as many separate urls as you like. https://www.websitecarbon.com/
In order to reduce the environmental impact of digital work, it is important for design and digital creatives to prioritise the creation of lightweight websites by minimising the use of resources such as colours, fonts, images, and videos. Despite the challenges of balancing sustainability and creativity, integrating sustainable practices into the digital design process is the future. By utilising AI-powered code, carbon calculator tools and adopting a sustainable mindset, the design industry can significantly contribute to mitigating the environmental impact of digital work.
And here are some great resources and articles on this topic: