Why the carbon footprint of your website matters – and how you can improve it

Did you know that your website has a carbon footprint?

Yes, your website has a carbon footprint (don’t worry – this also took us by surprise!). Even though browsing devices are powered by electricity rather than fossil fuels, they still have an impact on our environment. That means everything you see online, whether that be an app you use, a video you watch, or just a simple social post that you interact with, even blogs like this one, all produce a carbon footprint.

How much of an impact does your website have on the environment, you ask? Well…

For example, from our research we learned that the average website produces 1.76 grams of CO2 per page view. So if your website gets 100,000 page views per month, it would generate a huge 2,110kg of CO2 per year! That’s more than the amount that an airplane produces on a 10,000 mile trip.

We were a little mind blown by these facts, so we decided to do some further research to find out what changes we can make to improve the carbon footprint of our website. After all, at mmunic we care about the environment. We discovered that how websites are designed can have a massive impact on their online carbon footprint, which has inspired us to look at our own. But first, let’s look at what’s inspired us to start this journey…

The first automotive company to adopt sustainable web design

Not only have Volkswagen (Canada) have leaned into the Paris Climate Agreement with their commitment to making all VW vehicles and production carbon-neutral by 2050, they’ve also gone the extra mile by extending this commitment to how they market their line of electric vehicles. 

VW Canada launched a new website experience to promote their all-electric vehicles range that reflects their environmentally conscious ethos. How? By adopting sustainable web design. Partnering with TAXI, VW Canada achieved this by replicating and replacing all of their vehicle photographs using a technology called ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). ASCII is a type of character-encoding that is used for computers to communicate and store characters such as letters, numbers and symbols. 

VW Canada using ASCII technology to improve the carbon footprint of their website
One example of an image in VW Canada’s website

By using this technology, the text creates the illusion of images of the cars in VW’s all-electric line. That means there are no actual images on their minisite, only impressions of images. This clever approach then requires less energy to transfer that data over the internet, effectively lowering the digital carbon footprint of these pages. The proof is in the pudding: their new carbon neutral website tested cleaner than 99% of web pages – which was verified by Website Carbon

By reducing their electric vehicle web pages to little more than black and white text, VW Canada have significantly lowered the amount of data required to load a web page. This means you can engage with all of their sustainability-focussed content and shop for your new car in the most carbon-efficient way possible.

Our commitment reducing the carbon footprint of mmunic’s website – and how you can do the same for yours

We ran a test through Website Carbon ourselves and we were rather – ahem – shocked at just how much our website was impacting our environment. 

sustainable web design
The results came in on mmunic.co.uk…

However, although the design choices VW Canada have taken for their website are pretty much a gold standard for building a sustainable website, they’re practically impossible for most companies to replicate. After all, design aspects such as colours, fonts, images, and stylistic choices have a massive impact on your brand. Toning these elements down – let alone leaving them behind almost completely – can have a huge impact on your marketing presence. 

How your company works towards reducing the carbon footprint of its website will require a sliding scale approach – and one that we ourselves will be working out in the coming months. So while we can’t give an easy-to-follow set of instructions for building a green website, we can give you some super quick and easy changes that you can make to reduce your website’s carbon footprint today.

sustainable web design
VW Canada’s microsite has a handy switch to allow you to toggle between their sustainable browsing experience and their regular one.

Tips to help reduce the carbon footprint of your website

  • By simply reducing the size of images that are uploaded on to your website, you can significantly reduce your website’s carbon footprint and ensure a better user experience along the way!
  • Use as little Javascript as possible! This helps improve your website loading speed. Not only does this help minimise the amount of data required to load your website, it also boosts your SEO ranking. The lesser the load speed (5 seconds or below), the longer the viewing sessions (70%), the lower the bounce rate (35%), and higher the ad viewability (25%).
  • Using AMP (accelerated mobile pages) to strip down the existing version of a web page helps reduce carbon emission. This can actually be done with a simple plugin download, so all the hard work is done for you!
  • Placing your website closer to your consumers by using local CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) can help reduce network delays and in return, improve your brand experience. The shorter your data travels on a network, the lesser energy gets consumed. Many CDN providers have hundreds of data centers across the globe which cache your website once it is served to any user in the region. For instance, if you have a website hosted in the UK that is visited by someone in Canada, the browser will reach out to the nearest server offered by your CDN provider – in Toronto or Vancouver, for example – and request it to feed your website from there to the customer.
  • Opting for green hosting providers. There are a bunch of hosting providers which offer green website hosting or eco-friendly hosting:

Looking ahead to a greener digital future

Web design changes pretty quickly, where new trends can become old trends in a matter of months. So we wonder if – and when – web design trends will start becoming more heavily influenced by environmental consciousness. For example, right now, a huge trend in web design is about being generous with white space applying a minimalist touch to designs, which isn’t exactly far off ASCII technology (sustainable web design) – a trend that not only looks good, but helps the environment. It’s a win-win!

Bringing a green focus to our is going to be a long and challenging process but it’s one that both we – and the planet – are ready for. We’ve got our thinking caps out ready to work out how we can help have a positive impact on the environment (even outside of the digital world). Keep an eye out for the next update on our progress!

If you would like to see how your website ranks in online sustainability and make Greta Thurnberg proud, visit Website Carbon to get the results for your website and find out exactly what you can do to implement sustainable website design for your online presence.

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