We live in a day and age where, despite our personal convictions or proclivities, the impacts of climate change are directly felt and observable. Because climate change is a complex and occasionally contentious matter, it remains as important as ever to acknowledge the impacts of all contributing sources, seek out ways to mitigate the risks, and ideally foster a greater sense of environmental stewardship.
But for now, let’s pull our concerns back down to earth, figuratively speaking: You need a website built, and you are curious about the ways you can potentially mitigate negative climatological impacts. Building a “green” website will not only align with your environmental values, but also showcase your commitment to responsible business practices and help foster a positive brand image.
It is estimated that global digital technologies combined account for around 1% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and it should come as no surprise that demand for these services is projected to continue growing. Within that statistic, the primary contributing factors to greenhouse gas emissions include energy-intensive data centers and data transmission networks. These effects may be more evident on a massively-scaled social media site compared to a more average, modestly-sized site with just a handful of pages, but it’s important to remain mindful of the collective impact of many smaller sites.
An inefficient website will be more likely to contribute to higher greenhouse gas emissions compared to a more efficient one, and this may easily be symptomatic of a codebase that is poorly optimized or contains excessive file sizes. This increased energy demand may stem from longer processing times, increased data transfer, and/or higher server workload.
Fortunately, many of the strategies that go hand-in-hand with building a more eco-friendly website have broader benefits to its usability and performance. Let’s explore a few strategies that can deliver a win for your web development goals as well as the planet.
Less is more
Every element on a page adds up, particularly as a website begins to scale. When it comes to web design choices, opting for a more minimalistic approach for your page components and layouts can be a small but mighty way to reduce your footprint, as it will reduce the resources required to get the site in front of the user. To offer a counter-example, think of a news website with a cluttered UI full of text, images, videos, and ads. While this makes sense contextually–and there undoubtedly are methods to serve this amount of content to the user as efficiently as possible–fewer elements and more white space on a page would still performantly reign supreme.
While it may depend on your product and vision, leveraging a minimalistic design can lend itself to a better user experience. This is courtesy of well-studied design principles such as better visual focus, improved readability, and clearer call-to-action. Mobile websites and apps can also benefit from this strategy since they have more limited screen real-estate to begin with.
Optimize for efficiency
When it comes to your site’s code, being mindful of any unnecessary scripts, plugins, and external dependencies will definitely help lighten the load. Reusability or modularization of page components and elements can also play an important role in increasing site performance and reducing sheer lines of code (we love the combination of Next.js with Sass modules).
Another important factor is ensuring that images and any other assets are sized appropriately for their use case. For example, loading a 2000x2000 pixel image that will eventually get scaled down to a 50x50 pixel icon is arguably less-than-optimal. Tools such as Imgix can take some of the guesswork out of these optimizations thanks to its resizing, compression, and caching functionalities.
Use ecologically-mindful web services
It may be surprising to learn that companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google–each of which provide popular cloud-based hosting services–actually invest considerable amounts of money in renewable energy. Cloud computing in general has been demonstrated to have higher utilization rates, faster hardware refresh speeds, and overall reduced electricity usage compared to traditional servers. By choosing a hosting provider that has a stake in sustainability practices or renewable energy, you will have the extra peace of mind that the infrastructure on which your site is built is contributing toward your ecological efforts.
Using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a great choice as well, as it will reduce data transfer distances by caching and serving content geographically closest to the user. At Ample, we use platforms such as Netlify and Contentful, both of which have excellent CDN capabilities that fit nicely within the JAMstack architecture.
Our actions have the power to shape our surroundings with both positive and negative impacts, but the throughline is that small changes can add up incrementally. By adopting any of these techniques as you explore web technologies, you can make a positive impact with lasting results.
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