Why Web Designers Need To Think About Sustainable Web Design

Sabrina is the founder of Complex Creative, the No Bullsh*t Agency, a full-service creative agency in London specializing in WordPress.

“If the Internet was a country, it would be the 7th largest polluter.”

Such a powerful line from the Sustainable Web Manifesto should inspire us all to be more clean, efficient and open about how we build websites.

It’s astonishing how much carbon is emitted due to internet usage; the problem is, so much benefit comes from having the internet that people aren’t simply going to stop using it. Therefore, we have to be more sensible about how we do things online and think about the environment.

I think a lot of responsibility lies with website designers, as they have the ability to create low-carbon websites for clients.

Why No-Code Websites Are Bad For The Environment

No-code website solutions are absolutely huge nowadays. They give anyone the ability to make beautiful websites without knowing anything about how a website works. Absolutely brilliant for an entrepreneur on a budget—but terrible for the environment. If you want to learn more, take a look at websitecarbon.com, which calculates the carbon scores for websites, including those developed with no-code templates.

The reason why these no-code websites work so well is that they come pre-packaged with almost every functionality you can think of, meaning your website is bulked out with pages of unnecessary code, emitting more carbon than a tree can absorb.

I’m not denying that these providers create beautiful websites that work perfectly for those who need a web presence but don’t know how to code—and I say this as the founder of a website agency. I just want people to be aware of the negative environmental impact of including unnecessary code in popular website templates. On the flip side, this means that website developers have the opportunity to make a real difference.

What Can Website Developers Do To Help The Environment?

First of all, where possible, you want to build websites from scratch. This way, you can include only the code that is actually required to power each website. You can see examples of how low-carbon websites are built at a great inspirational site called lowwwcarbon. All these examples use sustainable web design practices to get their websites as lightweight as they can.

However, I understand that from a commercial perspective, not every client is going to have the budget to cover the hours it takes for you to do this. Plus, most clients these days want some kind of content management system (CMS), so they can manage their own content going forward.

This means you need to find a CMS that allows you to completely customize their tech. My own agency has chosen to use WordPress (we have no business relationship with them) because bespoke WordPress websites can be very low-carbon. If you need to start with a theme to get yourself going, they also offer some super lightweight themes like Susty WP, which weighs just six kb.

Learn More About Sustainable Web Design

Sustainable web design is about putting practices in place to help you design websites that have no negative impact on the environment. Most of these practices are quite “techy,” which is one reason I believe the onus lies on the web developers to ensure these things are being done.

There are two books on this topic that I believe are essential reading: Tim Frick’s Designing for Sustainability and Tom Greenwood’s Sustainable Web Design. Both these men are leading the way in sustainable web design, and you can learn a ton just from these two resources.

Another great resource for further reading is The Green Pages.

Putting It Into Practice

If you’re looking for some quick tips on how to create greener and low-carbon websites, here are my top five recommendations.

1. Use green hosting: Switch to a hosting company that uses renewable energy to power their websites.

2. Minimize the use of video: While videos are hugely engaging, they are one of the biggest reasons your website runs slow and is heavy. So think about whether you actually need to use that video on your website.

3. Optimize your images: Most people know not to upload huge images to their website, but you can optimize them further with online tools such as TinyPNG and, even better, export them in formats like WebP, which lowers the file size without compromising on quality.

4. Minify your code: Lots of the code you use will be loaded unnecessarily, and this will impact performance and page size. Make sure you minify this code, remove all excess characters and reupload it to your website to improve page speed.

5. Use lazy loading: Only load assets once the user has scrolled down to that section of the page. This will reduce unnecessary resources being loaded when they’re not needed.

Why not try the above steps on your website and test your new carbon score? And make sure any web developers you know are aware of these techniques and resources to help the environment through sustainable web design.

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