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June 03, 2013

Green Web Design: Doing More with Less

by Judi Wunderlich

The design industry is one that is ever-changing and evolving. In an age where a company is judged on not just how well it produces but how friendly it is towards the environment every detail counts, even web design. That is how the concept for sustainable web design began and, in the last few years, has become a real movement among companies.

“When you are sitting in London viewing a website hosted in California, there are power plants on at least two continents actively pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in order for you to watch that video or read that online newspaper. Since millions of people are surfing the web every hour of every day, that carbon footprint adds up to an astounding 2% of international emissions each year,” explains Dr. Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard physicist and Environmental Fellow in his research.

The Internet is currently growing at a rate of 50% per year, explains experience designer James Christie in his research. Growth at that rate will create approximately 1.4 billion tons of CO2e by the year 2020, the equivalent of Russia’s total current emissions.

New technology like the cloud plays a major part in becoming more energy efficient, notes Christie in his data. “Hosting in places rich in sustainable energy (like Iceland) could reduce the footprint of your site tremendously. It will not reduce the footprint to nil: development, data transmission and usage still have to be taken into consideration,” he notes.

With rising awareness also comes increased demand from consumers. It was out of this need that benefit corporations, or B Corporations were created. These for-profit entities have built-in ways to give back to society and the environment into their business model.

“When corporations only consider shareholder value and not their impact on workers, community, or the environment, that is decidedly abnormal,” explains Tim Frick, Founder of the Chicago-based green design firm Mightybytes.

I believe B Corps have the power to change the face of business as we currently know it. The rapid growth of the B Corp community is exemplary of this. As the notion of "conscious business" becomes more popular and consumers become more socially conscious, a third-party verification that your business operates under a stringent set of triple bottom line guidelines adds value to your brand.”

According to Sustainable Industries magazine, here are some benefits of creating a B Corp: Thought Leadership, Increased Consumer Trust, Attract the Best Employees, Save Money, and Reduce Risk.

“Like all things in business, one cannot simply call their company green, " says Frick. "Certain guidelines must be followed and kept in order to earn that title. The first step comes in measuring a site’s carbon footprint. How does a virtual environment make an impact? Consider what elements go into not only developing the page itself but also keeping it running full-time,” he says.

Given the relative infancy of the movement, however, defining the guidelines remains relative to each company. Below you will find a short list of suggestions to help minimize the carbon footprint of your next web page.

  • Mobile First- By refocusing the design efforts towards devices that use less power the energy output of a site goes down significantly.
  • Refined SEO- By designing a site to be easily indexed by search engines it creates less of a strain on search engines and reduces the number of bits a user burns to find the information they need.
  • Stay Current on Web Performance Best Practices –The fast your page runs the less of a carbon footprint you will make. Since technology is constantly changing make sure you keep up. Read Google’s Web Performance Optimization (WPO) Best Practices.
  • Optimize Images- Not all pictures are created equal. A JPG file uses more CPU cycles to load on low-powered smartphones and tablets. Keep your customer’s battery lasting longer with Yahoo’s tool.

These suggestions, however minor, are the first steps toward bringing down your company’s carbon footprint and becoming an eco-friendly business. As the movement grows it is the hope of those involved that the world will grow along with it.

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