March 11, 2020 Websites | Tech advisory

Bringing sustainability to the website

 By Timmy Fredriksson

Sustainability is more important than ever - call it "the Greta effect", or an increased awareness that our planet's resources are finite, but companies are seeing themselves pushed to respond by putting their sustainability efforts under the spotlight.

So, where do corporate websites fit into sustanability? Simple: the way a website is built affects how sustainable it is, especially when the number of visitors is on the rise and massive data loads need to be sent across the internet. Creating better websites can be an important part of decreasing a company's carbon footprint.

Believe it or not, websites can also be sustainable - and we're not just talking about the sustainability section or the content on the website. Rather, the way the website is built and where it is hosted can form a significant part of a company's carbon footprint. Depending on the business, it might rest on the lighter side of the scale, but it can be a stone worth turning regardless, for a number of reasons.

Lighter sites with the right code and hosting choices

It's quite simple when you think about it: the internet needs power to function. A lot of power.

As stated by the Sustainable Web Manifesto:

"If the internet was a country, it would be the 6th largest polluter"

Sending data across the internet is not a particularly energy-efficient task and neither is website hosting. The more data, and the further it needs to be sent from the host, the more power is required. The reverse is also true: minimising the amount of data sent when a website is visited can drastically reduce the energy consumption.

A listed company still needs to keep a website up and running. Unplugging completely from the internet would lead to a wide array of issues, ranging from confused stakeholders and fines from stock exchanges to dealing with authorities. Given this, which are the steps you can realistically take to decrease your website 'weight'?

Optimise content for the web

The most drastic route to making a website greener is to simply remove heavy content, i.e. videos and images. However, that's not likely to be a realistic option, as media content is often created to help tell a company's story. Working towards optimising this typically heavy content for the web is a more pragmatic and less drastic approach.

There are several free tools available online that analyse image content and point out areas for improvement. However, the path to optimisation doesn't stop at images. Delivering typeface in an optimised format, for example, is another way these tools can be applied, as well as making sure website code is tidy and streamlined to cut back on unnecessary deliveries to browsers.

Sustainable websites are good for SEO

A different approach to going greener is to keep an eye on your website’s text content, which incidentally overlaps with good SEO practices. Page performance is one such element, but so is maintaining content oversight to avoid double publishing and delivering content that caters to stakeholder needs. By optimising for SEO, you can ensure that they are able to quickly find answers to their questions, thus lowering their need to browse the web further for details.

Green hosting

As all websites need hosting, the best way to minimise your carbon footprint is to make sure that your provider is using green energy. Ask them if this is the case, if they have a sustainability policy, and what steps they intend to take to become more sustainable. The Green Web Foundation also provides a directory of hosting companies that back their sustainability claims with proof.

The carbon footprint of Webranking's top performers

Stakeholders expect a lot of content from listed companies, which is reflected the results of our annual Webranking research. Companies with a high score, i.e. those that do well in meeting these expectations, tend to have rather large websites with lots of imagery, videos, and overall content. So, how green are their sites in terms of power usage? Through the Website Carbon Calculator, we can get an estimate of how much CO2 is created per visit amongst the top performers in Webranking:

CompanyScore in Webranking (out of 100)Rank in the Europe 500 list of WebrankingGrams of CO2 produced per visitPage count
Swedish Match83.460.583,660
Stora Enso73.9192.064,800
Poste Italiane81.892.992,810

The Website Carbon calculator uses average figures to creating these results. However, there are many factors that play into these calculations and make it difficult to get an exact number (how efficient a user's device is, battery conditions and brightness settings, etc). Consider these numbers to be indicative, but relevant indications at that.

Looking at the numbers in the table, the leaderboard would probably look a bit different if carbon footprints were to be included in Webranking. The greenest site, Swedish Match, is in 6th place in Europe but the winner in Sweden, while the Webranking winner in Europe, Eni, is the 11th cleanest out of the top 20 performers.

Looking at the number of subpages on these sites also shows that it's how content is structured and optimised before delivery that makes all the difference. Swedish Match, for example, has 3,660 subpages on its corporate site, while BASF has nearly 70,000. Having a lot of pages indicates that there might be plenty of duplicate content. As mentioned before, this also suggests that users spend more time surfing larger websites than smaller ones in search for the content they want. Causality does not have to mean correlation in this case, but it would point in that direction.

Make your website greener

So, what should you do to improve your website and make it better for visitors and for the environment? Here is what we suggest that you start with:

  • Run a performance test
  • Look into optimising images and videos
  • Revisit your content structure and avoid duplicate content

Read more about how we can help with your website

Helena Wennergren

Head of Research

+46 70 971 12 10

Sara Hernandez

Client Director

+46 761 09 05 06

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