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Industry Contributor 1 Aug 2022 - 5 min read

Websites generating twice as much of CO2 as cars - but we're focusing on decarbonising ads. Here's how to cut carbon faster

By Gary Nissim - Managing Director, Indago Digital

A website with 100,000 page views a month emits twice the amount of carbon dioxide as a Toyota Yaris. Think about what that means for Netflix or YouTube – and even pretty run of the mill brand and retail websites – says Indago Digital's Gary Nissim. He thinks agencies and marketers should prioritise more efficient websites as they ramp up efforts to decarbonise the digital media supply chain, and outlines how to do it.

 

A site with 100,000 page views per month emits 2,112kg of CO2 every year. That’s twice the amount of CO2 emitted by a Toyota Yaris. What does that mean for the about the amount of carbon Netflix or YouTube would emit?

Gary Nissim, Managing Director, Indago Digital

I was living vicariously through colleagues who’ve been gallivanting around Cannes via the pages of trade press when I found an article that really stood out to me. It was Mi3’s article on the statements made by GroupM’s Global Chief Innovation Officer, Krystal Olivieri, on green advertising and WPPs lofty (and righteous) goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions in its operations by 2025. And across its entire supply chain by 2030!

Olivieri admitted that media buying is “WPP’s single biggest carbon output”. That got me thinking: What about their clients’ websites and the websites WPP builds? Where do they feature in the equation? What about the websites we all build? What impact are they having on carbon output? 

As a digital marketer with a degree in Environmental Management (unfortunately there were few environmental jobs in the 1990’s), Olivieri’s admissions compelled me to explore the negative environmental impact websites have in more depth. As of right now, there are 1.98 billion websites online and, according to online carbon calculator Website Carbon, the average website produces 1.76g of CO2 for every page view. So, a site with 100,000 page views per month emits 2,112kg of CO2 every year. That’s twice the amount of CO2 emitted by a Toyota Yaris. What does that mean for the about the amount of carbon Netflix or YouTube would emit?

A friend of mine, Sam Logan, from the dev agency Woolly Mammoth, put it perfectly. “Like we blame our parents for the environmental impact of plastics, our kids will say ‘Mum! Dad! How did you let that happen?’ and blame us for the environmental impact of the Internet.”

The Internet accounts for 4 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions (BBC, Smart Guide to Climate Change 2020) and as global populations increase, more people move online, richer formats are consumed and time online increases, these emissions are increasing exponentially. Every click, page view, auto-played video, form completed, and brochure downloaded burns carbon. The great thing is that we can reduce the toll that websites have on the environment and, at same time, increase their SEO visibility and improve their UX.

We can be part of the solution whilst driving more traffic and increasing conversions.

How? Glad you asked.

It’s Called Sustainable Web Design.

Sustainable web design combines ecologically conscious technology with performance-based web and usability standards that reduces carbon emissions and improves user experience.

Here’s a list of ‘how to build a sustainable website’ basics:  

  • Choosing the right technology will decrease your website’s carbon footprint a lot. The quicker your website, the less carbon it typically burns as it uses less resources to load. Headless CMS (a back-end-only content management system that acts primarily as a content repository) with a static site generator (They work by fetching dynamic data from a headless CMS) is the way to go. It’s more ecofriendly but it’s also more efficient, flexible and I could go on all day about all the other benefits. Our tech combination preference at Indago Digital (and Woolly Mammoth) is Gatsby as the static site generator and Sanity as the CMS.
  • Switching to a green web hosting provider reduces energy consumption. Green hosting providers use a variety of means to make them green: they produce their own renewable energy (solar, etc.), buy energy from renewable focused providers, offset carbon (massive cheat if you ask me) and they use more ecofriendly equipment.  
  • Lazing loading means that instead of loading all a page’s resources simultaneously and immediately, the browser only loads what’s above the fold until the user scrolls. Any digital marketeer will tell you that there is an exponential drop off as people scroll down a webpage, so lazy loading is an easy eco win. You can optimise your tracking tags in a similar way using a tag management solution. 
  • Avoid templated websites where most of the code isn’t used. Limit plugins and tracking to those that are necessary. Certain tracking tags are also inefficient, like heat mapping, so limit the time you use them. It also helps if your website’s code is clean. Developers can combine resource files, so browsers have fewer requests. 
  • Use WebP instead of MP4s, JPEGs or PNGs to reduce file size by up to 34 per cent, while increasing page speed performance. Obviously, images and videos are energy intensive but they’re also the most popular resource type on the web, often making up over 50 per cent of a web page’s size. I know we all love a huge hero image on the homepage, but do we need that? Total waste of prime real estate AND an energy guzzler. 
  • Great UX = Great SEO = Happy, High Converting Customers. If your website visitors can find their content or complete their tasks in less clicks, they will be happier and so will the planet. 
  • If your content has no value, cull it. Every page visit sends a request to your server and that consumes energy. If a page doesn’t drive conversions; if it has a high bounce rate or doesn’t appear in the search engines and if it doesn’t have websites linking to it, it’s best eco- and SEO practice to remove it.

These suggestions are just the tip of the Sustainable Web Design iceberg, but they provide a good starting point. If you want to know how to compare your website’s eco friendliness to your competitors or to understand how much carbon it gives off a year, a quick Google search will provide you with a smorgasbord board of websites that can help. 

Finally, when you rebuild your website, please consider your environmental obligations and mandate sustainable web design and carbon-efficient practices. Sure, you’ll be doing your bit but I also guarantee your good digital karma (aka improved efficiency) will boost your SEO visibility and increase your conversion rates.

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Gary Nissim

Managing Director, Indago Digital

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