Sustainable Web Design

The internet’s dirty secret

How much electricity does the internet use?

Many of us think about our carbon footprint concerning food, travel and clothing… but have you ever thought about the environmental impact of your digital content behaviour?

So how much electricity does the internet actually consume?

Quite a lot, actually.

The internet is estimated to use 416.2TWh of electricity annually, surpassing the total electricity consumption of the United Kingdom in a year. In fact, the IT sector already consumes an estimated 7% of global electricity

And where there’s electricity use, carbon emissions often follow.

Websites have become increasingly complex, incorporating more videos, animations, and advertisements. Each new feature demands additional data storage, processing, transfer, and display. Additionally, internet usage has surged in recent years.

The COVID-19 pandemic, with its lockdowns and necessity for remote interaction, accelerated our shift to digital communication. While some people have returned to their pre-pandemic routines, many have continued with the digital habits they adopted, such as online shopping and collaborative working.

The internet now accounts for almost 4% of global carbon emissions, similar to the aviation industry, and it’s expected to double in the next four years.

“The internet is essentially the largest coal-fired machine on the entire planet,” says Jack Amend, co-founder of the Web Neutral Project.

Addressing the Internet’s Carbon Problem with Sustainable Web Design Despite the daunting scale of the problem, practical changes can make websites more sustainable.

6 Steps to Sustainable Web design

Sustainable web design often requires rethinking traditional approaches to digital marketing and design. The Sustainable Web Manifesto outlines six core principles for building sustainable websites, which include:

  • Clean: powered by renewable energy
  • Efficient: using minimal energy
  • Honest: avoiding user deception (refer to our blog on deceptive design)

In practical terms, as legendary German designer Dieter Rams puts it, “Good design is as little design as possible.” For instance, reducing the number of images and animations, and using a darker colour palette (since lighter colours require more energy) can lower a website’s carbon footprint.

Another way to make a website more sustainable is by optimising its search engine performance. A well-structured website with curated content and clear navigation can help users complete tasks quickly, saving energy by reducing unnecessary data transfers.

Sustainable web design not only lowers carbon footprints but also enhances user satisfaction and trust, which are critical for customer loyalty. Businesses can differentiate themselves as principled brands that value “people, planet, and profit — in that order,” as Mary Portas puts it.

Additionally, sustainable websites can be more cost-effective. Lean websites with small file sizes and minimal processing power requirements reduce the need for expensive, high-powered hosting.

Creating sustainable websites involves balancing aesthetics, functionality, and efficiency. Low-carbon web design requires technical expertise and careful consideration of which features provide genuine value to users.

Ultimately, small changes can have a significant impact, especially as more of our lives move online. Whether you’re concerned about the climate or your business’s bottom line, sustainability is a critical consideration for your online presence.

Contact us to learn how we can assist you with your sustainable web design project.