It’s easy to think of the internet and cloud as virtual concepts. After all, our connection to them is largely unseen. But it has a dark side which might surprise you - we’re talking about its environmental impact.
Strangely, this is an issue that isn’t widely broadcasted, but we think it deserves to be shouted about - loudly! The data we fire back and forth all day long is collected, processed, stored, and exchanged in vast data centers around the world. The supercomputers that power them run constantly and often overheat. In turn, they’re cooled by giant cooling systems powered by electricity. Few of them run on green energy.
Collectively, the web account for 2% of all greenhouse gas emissions. That’s equivalent to the global aviation industry. There are three big reasons why the internet and its traffic contributes to an unhealthy planet:
Reason #1: The number of web visitors is growing, which means more energy consumption through their devices.
Reason #2: The overall size of websites is exploding, which means it requires more server power to process all of the transmitted data.
Reason #3: As it becomes more convenient for users to access the web, users spend more time online, which only adds to energy consumption and server usage.
We’ll walk you through three ways you can make your website more eco-friendly - all so that you can continue to enjoy building and using the web guilt-free.
Is your data green?
It certainly has the potential to be. The biggest issue with digital when it comes to the resources it consumes is that it’s much more difficult to see. A paper that you print out, put in an envelope and send by post is much easier to see. Or the junkmail in your mailbox. Newspapers. The latest catalog from Ikea. But the data centers that store and process all the digital information we upload to the cloud and download aren’t carbon free and they consume hundreds of terawatts of energy and it’s increasing!
How performance affects the environment
Often performance goes hand in hand with making your website greener. A light and fast website leaves a lower footprint each time it’s served to the end user. Utilizing CDNs (content delivery networks) effectively will shorten the distance resources travel. Having your caching properly configured also has a positive impact as it lowers the load on the server hosting your website. Going even further static site generators such as GatsbyJS will really help improve the impact your website has on the environment.
You might also want to check the eco-friendliness of your CDN, if you’re using one. To do this, I’d recommend downloading the Click Clean 2017 report: Who Is Winning the Race to Build a Green Internet?
There are three main ways to reduce your website's impact on the application layer.
1. Optimize your code
First of all, optimized code runs well in the backend while it decreases the load on the server CPU. The same goes for the code that is responsible for rendering your website in the browser, smaller HTML files, optimized JS and CSS files reduce your carbon emissions.
- Combine and minify your code
- Use CSS sprites
2. Ca-ching! How to serve data.
Second, you should add rules for caching. Whenever a user visits a page on your website the server will take this request, run all the code and database queries necessary to create the HTML and then serve this to the user. Does the server have to do this every time a request is sent? The answer is most likely “no”. Most websites are quite static, meaning that a few people publish content on the website and all others consume the content. This means that the server only has to render the HTML output when content is updated instead of everytime a page is requested. This HTML we can cache.
- Implement caching at every level: browser, page, server, database, etc.
- Use a CDN
- Implement Gzip compression
3. Reduce media content
Third, reduce your content. Don’t use an image that’s not necessary to convey. What you may easily say with text should be said with text. Images for the sole purpose of being eye candy is a waste of resources. The same is to be said for video and audio media.
The saying that an image can say a 1000 words no longer holds true. 10kb of data is well over 1000 words while even an optimized image is at least 50kb.
- Compress all images before uploading to your server
- Resize images to no more than the maximum pixel width of your users’ screens. Anything more than that is just a waste
- Save images in WebP so that browsers that accept the image format will more efficiently deliver them to your visitors
- Use lazy loading so your server doesn’t waste time processing images visitors will never see
- When possible, embed video from a third-party video storage and streaming platform
More and more data centers push towards becoming greener. There’s a self-regulatory Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact created in cooperation between the EU and a group of data centers. The initiative aims to make data centers more energy efficient, use clean energy, conserve water, focus on a circular economy and circular energy systems. The pact was set in motion in January 2021. This is great news. More and more providers are signing the pact and committing to do better. There’s no doubt that it will become easier to choose green hosting in the future, but you may already take some steps today.
Being in Norway is already an advantage as most server infrastructure here already uses clean energy from wind or water. We’re also using servers and CDNs across the globe and it’s important to us that they’re committed to the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact and that they are either already 100% powered by sustainable energy or that they’re on their way there with clear goals set.
Make green part of your next project
Here are some steps we can do with you:
- Top tasks - remove unnecessary content from your website and make it more efficient
- Reduce server load by improving code performance
- Reduce the size of digital assets served on the front end
- Do a review of your websites sustainability
- Set goals for sites overall environmental impact
- Streamline navigation to reduce how much time users spend inside the app or website
Get started with a website sustainability audit
Let's make a strategy for digital sustainability together! First, we must know how your website is performing today through a sustainability audit. Then, we can create and execute the strategy with a more focused scope of the pain points.