Why you should integrate sustainability into your website lifecycle.

Chapter 1 – Why it matters more than you think.

It’s time to raise awareness about website pollution. Discover our first series on sustainable web design. Our team will be taking you from the importance to act now to key best practices to implement on your website!

The average click on a webpage is less than 1 gr of CO2e. Negligible? Not really. Who goes to the internet, clicks once and moves on with their day? It’s the cumulative impact that is very significant. That’s why it’s important to act now and reduce our energy consumption in order to have a change to limit our planet’s imbalance.

But first things first, how is a click converted into CO2e emissions? Today, we’re telling you everything! 

A (very) tangible impact.

300,000 tons of CO2e per year. Our latest environmental analysis show that the total carbon emissions of Canadian websites is equivalent to 70,000 Canadian homes’ energy use for a year.

This number is huge, yet this is just a small portion of the visible face of the iceberg. At a global scale, we already count over a billion websites, and 250,000 new sites coming online every day !

What happens when we surf...

To understand how a website is participating in CO2e emissions, we need to have a clear picture on what happens when we surf on the internet.

This can be explained in the five steps below. 

The user requests a specific website address in the browser (request, example: www.footsprint.co)

This address is translated into a machine-readable IP address (the address of the server where your website lives) on the Domain Name System (DNS) server.

The browser asks the server, through an HTTP request, to send the websites’ files (request).

If approved, the server sends the websites’ files to the browser (response).

The browser displays the web pages (response).

If you’re looking for more details, this “How the web works” article on the MDN Wed Docs site should be a helpful ressource.

"Every byte has an impact in the real world."

Let’s deep dive into how each step is consuming resources (electricity) and will results in CO2e emissions in the atmosphere.

The CO2e  emissions sources of internet websites can be summed up in three categories: the emissions from servers, data transmission networks (wifi, 5G) and end-users’ devices. 

All those steps do consume resources and consume even more if the web page is heavy (amount of data transferred). Indeed, the heavier the web page, the more data transferred, thus the more technical resources required at server and end device level. At the end, this results in higher electricity consumption and, as a result, in increased CO2e emissions.

And this demand for resources is far from reducing, which is only getting us farther from our objective to reach net-zero by 2050.

For example, among all the WordPress websites in the world, the median weight of a desktop web page has increased by 25% in the last 5 years, going from 1,752 KB in January 2016 to 2,440 KB in December 2021 (HTTP Archives). According to the French Senat, the total carbon footprint of digital in France would be approximately 15 millions of tons of CO2e, i.e. approximately 3.5 million Canadian homes. And this is only for France…

Sustainability by design: the next paradigm shift in web development.

A heavy website with millions of sessions per year would result in emitting several tons of CO2e in the atmosphere. Images and videos weight, unused fonts, unnecessary requests to the database, non-rigorousness in code writing, etc. can have a big impact on resource consumption.

That is why it is very important to integrate the sustainability concepts into the conception stage of each digital project. This notion is called sustainability-by-design.

As digital specialists have been helping more and more businesses to grow online over the past years, they now need to lead the change by empowering them to transition towards more sustainable practices

As Tom Greenwood, – one of the pioneers in digital sustainability – wrote in his book “Sustainable Web Design“:“The time has come for digital professionals to take leadership in our industry and develop a culture where sustainability is fundamental to everything we do”.

A sacrifice? Rather an opportunity!

The good news is, incorporating sustainable web design into your web conception, design & development will very likely increase your website performance.

Indeed, building lighter, more efficient websites will help SEO ranking, page speed, and reduce friction, ultimately resulting in higher conversion rates. From an accessibility standpoint, lighter websites will also mean increased reach for audiences in less well served areas (poor connectivity, slow devices etc). Also, hosting costs can be reduced by implementing sustainability best practices through minimized server loads.

As digital sustainability is sure to become the next paradigm shift in our industry, the COP26 announcement of a 45% emissions reduction objective for the ICT sector by 2030 will doubtlessly be followed by regulations on the lifecycle emissions of our digital products.

In France, the law provides for the creation of a general framework for the eco-design of digital services (Article 25 of the REEN Law), setting sustainable design criteria for websites starting from 2024.

Eddy M.


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