Reduce your website's carbon footprint

Keeping my impact on the planet as low as possible is one of my key values as a business owner and as a human. I think I’ve got the green home thing sorted pretty well. We’re fairly radical in that we make our own toothpaste, oat milk, sourdough; we also forage and ferment our food waste, and we’re currently trialling DIY conker laundry liquid.
But being green as a business owner continues to be a learning experience for me. The digital world and our online habits have a big impact on the planet, and I’m gradually learning how to reduce my contribution and, hopefully, I’ll inspire others to do the same.
In this blog post I’ll share my experience of trying to reduce the carbon footprint of my website by focusing on the way I use images. I signed up to Amy’s (@blueraspberrydesign) Seven Days to a Greener Website challenge to give me a nudge in the right direction and a gentle introduction to green web design that anyone can action on their websites.

 

What is a digital carbon footprint anyway?

Using the internet has an actual physical effect on the planet. Whenever we access the internet to download, stream, upload and save files, there is a physical place for that file to come from or go to. This data is stored in huge data centres across the globe that require energy to power and cool them, as well as physical space to construct and host them. (Episode 4 of the Green Pea Podcast talks more about this.)
Every website has its own carbon footprint that uses data. Every time someone visits your website more energy is used. A positive thing you can do to reduce your impact on the planet is to lower the carbon footprint of your own website, so that less data is needed to make it function. The less data that is needed to power websites around the world, the less space and power needed to run data centres.
Experts are calling this era the ‘internet explosion’. I don’t even understand the measurements they’re using. I know (but don’t understand) KBs and MBs, but they’re talking about terabytes, petabytes and exabytes. These are so huge that it’s difficult to comprehend. Think about the file size of a photo on your website (keep reading to find out more) and then try to consider how massive a drain on energy these data sizes are. And where is the energy for this coming from? Yikes! 

 

What is green web design and why do I need it?

I follow Blue Raspberry Design on Instagram. Amy is a green web designer and passionate about reducing the environmental impact of websites. Earlier this year she advertised a free 7-day challenge to help people reduce their own website ‘bloat’ by focusing on their images. She promised no coding and a website that would be 20% greener by the end of the challenge – I was in!
Not only is having a green website great for the planet, but it also speeds your website up and makes it more accessible to readers. It’s a no-brainer for good business.

 

What is the carbon footprint of my website?

Day 1 of the challenge sent me to digitalbeacon.co to measure the carbon output of my website homepage. My homepage at the start of the challenge produced 2.06MB (2109.44KB) and 1.723g of carbon. It was rated as bad in terms of its carbon footprint. I felt a bit like I’d failed my Grade 5 piano exam again. But this time I was motivated to improve my efforts and become a green citizen (I did not become a good piano player, in case you were wondering).
The aim of day two was to reduce the ‘bloat’ (Amy’s word) of my website and make it run faster. What I hadn’t considered was that the speed of your website can leave it inaccessible for some, e.g. those who are in slow internet speed areas – as someone who is supposed to be moving to rural Devon soon, my ears pricked up at this!
Who else has slower internet speeds? Perhaps those who are more rural or who live in poorer nations or who live in digital poverty (a new term I had no idea about and want to know more about). So think about who your readers and customers are and whether your website speed could actually be preventing some key clients coming your way. 
The task for today was to check the size of homepage images. Mine produced a total of 1.56MB (1597.44KB) and 1.308g of carbon, a surprisingly large chunk of the carbon for my whole homepage! I didn’t expect my images to have such a large footprint. I only have 2 banner images across the whole site and 2 photos. I made a conscious decision a few months ago to remove a couple of other photos that were just space fillers. I was expecting the result to be much lower, so I was already intrigued and excited by the fact I could make some quick changes to my website’s carbon footprint just by concentrating on the images. 

 

What images does my website need?

Do I need all the images on my website? This was the next step of the challenge. I had to decide whether they added real value: do they help customers learn more about me and what I do? I turned to my networks for feedback and decided to keep my images.
I then had to work out the physical size (in terms of how much of the web page I wanted it to take up) and the file size of the images I was deciding to keep. Jpegs apparently smaller in size than pngs, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most of mine were already jpegs.
Amy explains all of this brilliantly, and her challenge includes pdf and video instructions. She was also super efficient and helpful when I contacted her with questions via Instagram. Tech talk is not my strength and it was great to be able to clarify a couple of points when I got stuck.

 

Optimise those images!

Day three had me playing about with my images: changing the physical size of the images and resaving them as jpegs is a great way to increase your website load speed. Admittedly, this bit didn’t really connect with me as a non-designer. But there’s also a nifty and super easy way to reduce their file size, and it comes in the form of a bamboo-chomping panda.
The website Amy recommends for this is tinypng.com. It’s the only one I’ve tried. I know there are others out there, but this one works a charm.
So how do I do it? Once you have your new jpeg files ready, simply drop them (up to 20 at a time) into the box on the homepage of tinypng.com and let it do its thing. I’ve no idea how it works, but what you get is a new file with a much smaller file size. You can then upload this into your website platform – boom! Easy peasy!
Once I knew how easy it was just to compress the images (the resizing didn’t really make sense to me), I went through my web pages and quickly changed my logo and photos on each page. It took less than 5 minutes, and I now have a tidy website images folder – bonus! 

 

Website accessibility

Day 4 of the challenge focused on the accessibility for your website for those who rely on screen readers. I won’t go into detail about accessibility here, as it deserves its own post. However, please do read one of my recent Instagram posts about the subject here.
Quick learning point for me on this subject though, don’t use alt text for a decorative image that doesn’t offer instruction or information, so a screen reader knows to skip that part rather than read out ‘monstera leaf in a light green’ every few paragraphs – a bit distracting to say the least! 

 

Waiting for the bots

Days 5 and 6 were focused on doing a bit of reading around the subject of data and its environmental impact while the bots updated their search of my site. This cool-off period needed to happen before checking my website’s new carbon footprint.

 

How green is my website?

I actually had butterflies in my stomach when I started day 7. I was genuinely nervous about my ‘test results’. I headed over to digitalbeacon.co to find out how much difference my actions over the week had made to my website’s carbon footprint. Ready for it? 
My current homepage now produces 660.22KB and 0.540g of carbon. It is rated as good when it comes to its carbon footprint.
The images on my homepage now produce a total of 138.1KB and 0.113g of carbon. This is a total reduction of 1,449.22KB and 1.183g of carbon.
That’s a reduction of more than 31%! Yes! The target was 20%, so I’ve smashed this, and I’m really pleased that I’ve done something else to green my business and reduce my impact. I’m amazed at how easy this was to action. I’ve added new pages and images to my website since completing this challenge and each time I’ve optimised my images ­– it’s so quick and easy to do.
The following day I thought it best to double check my website’s green credentials elsewhere, so I headed over to websitecarbon.com. A few months before the challenge my score on this was pretty dismal, so I was very pleased today to see this message: 

 

What’s next?

It’s not over yet. One of my actions is to change my web host to a green one. I’ve contacted them but haven’t made the leap yet. And I would love to know more, so there’s always more reading and learning to do. I’m really pleased at how easy this first leap was though. I hope it inspires more people to get on board. 
If you fancy learning more about green web design, follow Amy @blueraspberrydesign to see when her next challenge is running.

Find out more

Have you listened to the Green Pea Podcast yet? Me and Amanda Fearn of Lift Copywriting are big advocates of being green and ethical in business. For a bit of a giggle and some tips you can apply to your business, head over to Spotify and subscribe or download.
If you want to know how my (now slightly greener) business can help you feel more confident with your writing, please get in touch and email me.

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