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You might be surprised by just how energy inefficient running and hosting websites really is. The digital environment isn’t just a free-for-all with no consequences. Instead, the energy demand created by servers, networks, and individual devices adds significantly to global carbon emissions. To mitigate the negative effects, you must consider sustainable web design in your business and personal endeavours.
But what exactly is sustainable web design? Let’s start by defining what we mean by sustainability.
According to the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
That said, sustainability isn’t about creating magical and impossible circumstances that favour the environment over the welfare of human beings. Instead, sustainability is a three-pronged movement that considers the economy, the environment, and the human beings that have to balance these factors.
Sustainability then is the practice of balancing environment, equity, and economy. These three integral pillars make up the foundation for a successful human experience. By neglecting any one of these core components of sustainability, your personal and business practices will ultimately stop being rewarding. It might not be now, or even in the near future, but sustainability will catch up to you eventually.
But as a web designer, how can you accommodate sustainability? How does web design have anything to do with the economy or the environment?
The truth is, sustainability matters in web design just as it does in all other industries. Here’s how each of the three main aspects of sustainability plays into and is affected by sustainable practices.
When you think of sustainability, the environment is probably the first thing that comes to mind. This core aspect of any green procedure is all about ensuring that the natural resources and wildlife of the Earth aren’t destroyed forever in the quest for human advancement in the present.
In web design, environmental sustainability focuses on the polluting parts of the job, like the power needed to run a system, host a website, and serve users. All these tasks require substantial energy output. If you’re not making use of renewable energy in your web design work, you’re likely failing in terms of environmental sustainability.
But true sustainability has to make larger economic sense. We will never reach the point of zero waste or a net-zero carbon output if it isn’t in the best financial interest of the people and businesses that need it. Recognising this, governments have attempted to incentivise the economic viability of many sustainability practices through subsidies and tax cuts. However, there’s still plenty of progress to be made.
In web design, your transition processes must take into account economic considerations. This means a thorough analysis of the energy it will take to run your site as well as careful consideration of your partners and web hosting and energy needs.
Finally, there is the equity component of sustainability that focuses on outcomes for human beings. Too often, progress leaves various groups of people behind. For instance, systemic discrimination is common in many industries, notably tech. Sustainable web design has to challenge narratives with platforms that are inclusive to all users and professionals.
Equitable sustainability in web design means considering how your website will function for a diverse user base. This means integrating accessibility and inclusivity across your platforms. Creating true equity in your web design will improve your business outcomes because it naturally broadens your pool of customers.
But just how important is sustainability for web designers? Are the benefits really worth the effort?
Sustainable web design goes far beyond the benefits you can receive in the short term. This is a trending industry, one unlikely to go away anytime soon, and better practices are the priority of the entire developing world.
In this world, we must look for ways to reduce the massive output of the web industry in terms of carbon emissions and pollution. Right now, several troubling statistics demonstrate just how essential sustainability should be to our global business practices.
Even in digital industries, mass consumption creates unsustainable problems. These are just some of the points you should consider when determining the importance of sustainable web design for yourself:
- Digital technologies account for 4% of global carbon emissions.
- If the internet were a country, it would be the world’s sixth-largest polluter.
- Energy consumption of digital tech goes up 9% every year.
- The average carbon emission figure per web page is 1.76 grams.
- Online video consumption generates 300 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
Facing such pressing and dangerous concerns, it’s up to all of us to create a cleaner world. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways in which you can go about implementing better methods of web efficiency. By applying just a few best practices, you can design content that minimises any kind of negative impact while supporting future growth for people, environments, and economies.
Whether you are a self-employed designer or the Chief Technology Officer at your company, ensuring that all your web design processes follow sustainable measures can be incredibly beneficial. In fact, 67% of consumers now say they are more likely to purchase from a business that supports a sustainable agenda. For any executive in charge of minimising risk and maximising potential, it’s facts like these that make green change especially appealing.
Once you’ve determined that a sustainable change is in your best interest, it’s time to make a plan for implementing these changes in a better web design process.
Luckily for you, the many methods for implementing sustainability in web design don’t have to be expensive or difficult. You can incorporate better practices into your design process by first understanding your digital footprint and then evaluating where you can improve.
These are the steps and methods you should be taking towards a cleaner and more people-focused web design:
3.1 Understand your digital footprint
At 416.2TWh per year, the internet consumes more energy than the entire UK. For that reason, using a tool like a website carbon calculator can be especially useful in your quest for improvement. Calculators are a great place to start when trying to understand your digital footprint.
Once you know your energy use, it’s time to research the source of that energy. The world has made great strides in renewable energy integration, but still many power plants and businesses operate through the burning of fossil fuels and inefficient resources.
Try to partner with energy providers and web hosting companies that make use of renewable energy. This is one of the best methods you can employ for cutting down on the environmental impact of your platform.
3.2 Optimise your design for greater usability
Conveniently enough, a sustainable design happens to go a long way towards search engine optimisation (SEO) and web accessibility. This is because more energy-efficient sites load faster and work for more users. By focusing on optimisation, you stand to improve the sustainability of your site in all three important categories: environmentally, economically, and socially.
Optimisation, though, takes work. To meet Google’s standards for energy saving and functionality, you’ll need to reduce the burden on your site and streamline the experience. This means getting rid of auto-playing ads, reducing the number of redirects on your sites, and minimising file sizes for video and images.
Speed is a UI/UX trend of the modern era. It also helps you improve your sustainability in every category. With a faster site, you stand to decrease your impact on the environment, improve your economic standing through broader visibility, and increase the equitability of your experience for users.
3.3 Focus on accessibility
As you optimise your site, don’t forget to make accessibility a priority of your efforts. Accessibility is important on the web just as it is in physical spaces. Legislation is even starting to enforce accessibility measures in much the same way, with a famous Domino’s Pizza lawsuit setting a precedent for treating websites as public spaces.
When a United States federal court found that Domino’s Pizza violated the Americans with Disabilities Act for having an inaccessible website, they ordered Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliance. The WCAG represents an international set of standards for making a website accessible. It consists of four key principles. These are:
By implementing these standards in your web design, you can better optimise your site for equitable sustainability. This will have important economic consequences as well. Since over 20% of the EU market requires accessibility accommodations, mobile accessibility in a sustainable design significantly broadens your user base and revenue potential.
Fortunately, you can use free web accessibility evaluation tools like this one offered by WAVE.
3.4 Hire a web design expert
Sustainable web design is so essential to virtually every aspect of website success, that anyone serious about web sustainability will want to consider hiring professional help when building the design.
A good UX, for instance, naturally consumes less energy. This is because it will be optimised well and will function with fewer clicks on the part of the user, allowing them to navigate the site easily. But it takes a knowledgeable web designer to pull off a concise and navigable platform.
That’s why you need a web designer with skills that include:
- Graphic design
- Photo editing
- Front-end development languages
- Use of content management systems
- Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) techniques
Whether you decide to take out a job listing or build these skills for yourself, having an expert on hand to help you streamline the sustainability of your design will improve your chances of success. From there, you’ll be able to maintain a site that is more accessible and beneficial to the environment, the economy, and all kinds of users.
3.5 Explore green web hosting options
But to truly minimise your carbon output, you’ll also want to explore green web hosting options. Green web hosting services are companies that make exclusive use of renewable energy in powering their servers and networks that send your website to the internet. Alternatively, these companies will purchase renewable energy credits to offset other energy use.
Since this part of the web design process is the most energy-intensive, using a green hosting partner will make the most difference in your environmental impact. There are all kinds of options out there, with different companies offering various rates and features. You’ll want a green hosting service that has been proven to make a difference through sustainable policy and is within your budget.
Remember, sustainability is always about the environment, economy, and people, together so find solutions that work for all three.
With these strategies, you too can implement sustainable web design and create a future of greater opportunities. From the difference you’ll make in carbon emissions to the ranks of users who will be able to engage with what you have to offer, sustainability simply makes for a better world. By building this world first on the web, we can help transition all kinds of industries to a sustainable future.
The threat of climate change is real. Meanwhile, inequitable outcomes trouble both the digital and physical economies. To make a real difference, we all have to come together to implement greater efficiency. For web designers, this means following standards when putting together a fast and clean site.
Understand the massive importance of sustainability efforts, then follow these strategies for implementing a sustainable design across your websites. A better, more accessible future awaits.