Principles for designing sustainable, environmentally friendly websites

When it comes to Web design, the best thing you can do for the environment is nothing. Decide not to have a website or app or chatbot. Decide not to publish that new content. Even better, decide to remove an old website, to delete lots of useless Web pages.

There’s about 1.8 billion websites out there. One website for every four people on the planet. 91% of Web content never gets found in Google. Digital has opened the floodgates of crap. Enormous, unbelievable quantities of crap. Data centers are really very expensive and very polluting Data Dumps.

Everything digital is electrical and causes pollution when it’s created, pollution when it’s published, pollution when it’s stored. Digital waste is causing enormous quantities of pollution. To help save the planet delete that data.

If you are creating something digital, lighter is nearly always better, less creates less pollution. 500 words is half the weight of 1,000 words. Text is thousands of times lighter than images and tens of thousands of times lighter than video.

On, we were using one font just for headings. It was 45 KB. We changed to the font we use for standard text. There was no visual difference and we saved 45 KB on every page.

The old site had 154 KB of JavaScript for every page. JavaScript is energy intensive because it causes processing on the user’s device. On investigation, we didn’t really need any of it. We could do what we needed to do either in the browser or by using CSS. Always choose the lightest development option. Most websites don’t need JavaScript. It’s overkill.

Only send to the browser the code that the browser needs. Again and again, we find websites where 80% of the code they send to the browser is not used. Why? Amateur developers. Lazy developers. Developers under intense pressure to ship.

At the bottom of my weekly opinion piece there was a read Next, Previous option. This required coding. We estimated that it was consuming 3 KB to work. We replaced it with a link back to the overall homepage for the articles. That link was consuming about 110 bytes. It’s a cultural thing, a way of thinking. To focus on reducing waste in every area of our lives. To pursue the art of designing the lightest digital footprint.

The original website homepage weighed 560 KB, which is not bad considering the average webpage weighs about 4 MB. Now, it weighs 132 KB. Every page used to have 154 KB of JavaScript. Now there’s none. Every page used to load 112 KB of CSS. Now, only 12 KB is loaded. 107 KB of fonts were loaded on every page. Now, 14 KB is all that’s needed. Load time on mobile was 2.4 seconds. Now it’s 0.4.

What about flying? This is the response that you so often get from the tech industry. Flying is much worse. Such deflection. Yes, flying is much, much worse. Let’s fly less. Agreed. (No group flies more than tech executives.)

We are in a climate crisis. Every gram of CO2 we can avoid creating, we should. Every piece of waste we should remove. The Internet and its network are responsible for 850 billion tons of CO2. Around 1750, Great Britain was recognised as the first industrial polluting economy, with 10 million tons of CO2 per year. We are polluting vastly, vastly beyond sustainable limits. Anything we can do to reduce waste, to reduce CO2, we should.

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
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