Let’s green the web

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There is a campaign on Twitter this week (15th-19th February) #LetsGreenTheWeb to support and raise awareness of ClimateAction.tech. This prompted a discussion from a few of us here at Scottish Enterprise to look more closely at how we can reduce carbon emissions associated with our websites. 

Every time a website is loaded, it emits carbon emissions. Not something we tend to think about when browsing online. However, there is growing evidence that the internet has a real environmental impact. 

According to HTTParchive.org the average webpage is nearly four times the size it was 10 years ago. This is adding to the amount of electricity being used to load, send, and view a web page.  

Page weight in the last 1o years
Webpage weight increase over the last 10 years

The carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet and systems supporting them account for 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions, similar to the amount produced by the airline industry and if the internet was a country, it would be the 7th largest polluter in the world and it is continuing to grow. 

How green are our sites?

We used the Website Carbon Calculator to estimate carbon emissions on three of our sites. We will do this for all our sites, but just out of interest we looked at scottish-enterprise.comsdi.co.uk and findbusinesssupport.gov.scot

The calculator uses five key pieces of data to estimate: 

  • Data transfer over the wire 
  • Energy intensity of web data 
  • Energy source used by the data centre 
  • Carbon intensity of electricity 
  • Website traffic 

This is the result for Scottish Enterprise.

Result for Scottish Enterprise
Source: https://www.websitecarbon.com/website/scottish-enterprise-com/

SDI isn’t much better.

Scottish development international result
Source: https://www.websitecarbon.com/website/sdi-co-uk/

Find Business Support has a great result, one difference is FBS doesn’t use as much media (images and video) as SE and SDI. 

Find business support result
Source: https://www.websitecarbon.com/website/findbusinesssupport-gov-scot/

Next steps

The recommended starting points from climate action are: 

  • Remove and restructure 
    Delete things that are not essential and make the rest leaner – We are in the process of creating a new design system which minimises the number of components used across our sites and will also reduce the code we use.  
     
    We will be auditing our content and migrating our sites to use the new system, so we are in a great position to make our sites leaner. We will also be looking at our core web vital reports to see where we need to make changes which will add to reducing data transfer. 
     
  • Review media 
    Images and videos usually contribute the most to your page file size – we can put compression guidelines in place for teams creating content. Use scalable vector graphics (SVGs) where we can instead of JPEGs and PNGs.  
     
    We are also reviewing our use of images and icons on parts of our sites.  Customer feedback tells us if the image or icon is not adding value to the content then we should leave it out. This helps the customer experience and reduces data transfer. 
  • Move to a green host 
    Our sites are hosted on Microsoft’s Azure platform which, according to Microsoft, has been carbon neutral since 2012. Microsoft have also stated an ambition to use 100% renewable power by 2025. 
  • Cache things 
    We already use page/content caching, but we’ve also got a few specific caching controls on the database and server to help with serving content and images/media on the sites. 
     
    We cache all the content created through the content management system (CMS) in an in-memory cache on the server, so it only ever needs retrieved from the database when it changes. 

    All images are processed on the fly to allow us to optimise them, but we cache the optimised versions so we only ‘process’ each file once. 

    We use a content delivery network (CDN) for our images and media to help reduce how many times it needs to be served by the website. 

    For integration with our own application programming interface (APIs), we also have some specific search caching in place so that duplicate searches from multiple users don’t need to be recalculated.

We also have the newly updated  Digital Scotland Service Standard that has 14 criteria that we work towards. Criteria 10 is choose the right tools and technology, this includes considering the impact of our service on the environment. 

With all the above steps I feel optimistic about the changes we can make to reduce our carbon emissions. The changes will also improve our load times and performance, which provides our customers with a better experience. 

I would be interested to hear about improvements you have made to your sites and the differences it has made. 

Find out more

Read more about the Let’s green the web campaign. 

Use this calculator to see how green your site is https://www.websitecarbon.com/ 

Sign the Sustainable Web Manifesto  

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