Sustainable web design | Square Eye

Sustainable web design

15 Nov 2023

Making responsible, carbon-efficient choices for your website.

COP 28 (the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) is now upon us, and so are reports of the past summer being one of the wettest and warmest summers on record; in fact, some parts of the UK got the dubious title of having the wettest July since records began! This, off the back of 2022 being one of the hottest and driest summers on record, means that the topics under discussion are ever more pressing and urgent.

Environmental reporting

In the last couple of years, a new enthusiasm has emerged amongst our client base to adopt a more systematic approach to their sustainability policies and reporting. This is due to two factors:

  1. Environmental, Social & Governance reporting: As the mandate for ESG reporting trickles down from very large to ‘just’ large companies in the UK, USA and EU, admittedly at varying speeds, those in the small to medium business categories are starting to adopt ESG best practice reporting today in preparation for when it becomes enforced.  
  2. Industry-specific awards and accolades: We have seen the emergence of a variety of sustainability categories in the world of awards and rankings. For example, the Legal 500 launched the Legal 500 Green Guide.

What part does the internet play in all this?

One source of carbon emissions that is often overlooked is the internet and the systems around it. But the size of the problem is significant:

 So, what can we do?

  1. Switch to green hosting providers, suppliers fueled by renewable energy.
  2. Start measuring our impact so that we can manage it.
  3. Optimise our websites finding carbon savings wherever possible.
  4. Set up and implement guidelines to ensure that future development of our websites are responsibly managed.

 Green hosting

Many of our clients are already hosted by Kinsta, voted top Wordpress hosting provider by specialist sustainable web design agency Whole Grain digital. Kinsta is supplied by 100% renewable energy, and offers a number of features and tactics to reduce carbon emissions.

You can check if your hosting service provider is run on renewable energy by using the Green Web Foundation checker tool.

Measuring our impact

Before we can make a change we need to know what our current position is. The free Website Carbon Calculator tool will measure your website’s carbon emissions footprint. The tool takes into account:

  • CO2 emissions per page
  • Number of page views per year (using website analytics data)
  • Type of energy used by your hosting service provider (using data supplied by the Green Web Foundation)

You can use the tool to benchmark your website against others and set targets to reduce your carbon footprint.

Audit our websites for carbon savings

Data transfer consumes electricity; therefore, reducing data transfer reduces the energy required and the emissions generated. Data efficiency is key and this can be achieved in a number of ways:

  1. Reducing the ‘weight’ of a page. The size of a webpage is measured by combining the filesize of all its constituent images, code files and other assets. There are lots of ways to reduce page weight;  here are five examples:
    • Ensure any photos are compressed and optimised for the perfect balance of filesize and quality.
    • Avoid auto-plays on videos – ask a site visitor if they want to watch it.
    • Avoid use of third-party font or icon libraries where possible.
    • Use vector graphics and CSS effects instead of imagery to create a visually engaging experience.
    • Ensure the code used to build the site is clean.
  2. Remove what isn’t needed or used; anything a website houses has to be stored, and storage uses energy.
  3. Implement a caching solution; this guarantees that websites load faster, as data from an earlier request is stored locally.
  4. Reducing the number of times our pages are loaded. Although it may sound counterintuitive, it doesn’t help us to have the wrong people look at our websites;  more traffic can involve more ‘bad’ traffic. To make a sale or get someone to sign up for our services, we need to attract the right kind of visitor – the kind of person that needs what we sell or is interested in what we have to say. This can be achieved by:
    • Improving search engine optimisation
    • Streamlining user journeys

Return on investment

If the environmental benefits are not compelling enough to make these changes, there are very strong commercial reasons for making them.

  1. Speed – or lack of it, is the #1 reason people leave a website. 57% of people will leave a website if it hasn’t loaded in 3 seconds.
  2. Bounce rate – is the % of your site visitors who leave immediately, seeing only one page.  A high bounce rate costs you money:  you are paying for these visits and getting nothing in return.
  3. Improved user journey and customer experience = more sales or other ‘conversions’ for you.

Sustainability guidelines

To futureproof your website from becoming carbon-heavy again in future, take care over how it is maintained and extended in future.  We can help you record the steps your organisation has taken to ensure its website is sustainably managed. We can then build on this to create a set of guidelines to ensure future development does not undo all your hard work.

How Square Eye can help you become more carbon efficient

We’re here to help you become more sustainable online.  That can start with an informal Zoom call where we answer your questions and give you suggestions, or we can conduct a formal sustainability audit on your digital operations, including:

  • Review of your current hosting arrangements;  recommendation of a new provider if appropriate;  and assistance with any migration.
  • Audit of your website’s speed, performance, filesize and other technical metrics.
  • Investigation of your digital supply chain to check for suppliers you may want to replace.

We also offer hands-on help, including:

  • Optimisation of your site images, PDFs, fonts, icons and other assets.
  • Implementation of other techniques & improvements to improve your website speed and reduce data transfer.
  • Replacement of third-party services where possible with ‘cleaner’ methods.
  • Implementation of a content delivery network (CDN) and caching system if not already in place.
  • Make appropriate design changes to deliver a cleaner, lower-data experience to your site visitors.
  • Addition of a carbon emissions badge on your site, as calculated by the Website Carbon Calculator. This may help encourage your customers and website users to interrogate their own organisation’s carbon footprint.
  • Spring-clean of your website code to reduce bloat and future maintenance overheads.
  • Create sustainable web development guidelines for your site.
  • Help implement a sustainability statement on your website.
  • Set up an online donations facility encouraging site visitors to contribute to carbon offsetting.

Need a hand?

If you’d like a hand from Square Eye to make your website more sustainable, request a 1-hour sustainability audit. Alternatively, if you would just like to talk it through and understand the issue better, please book a call with Katharine Horsman, Account Director.