Web Design and Website Usage: How we can reduce Carbon Footprint

25th Aug 2021

When we think of carbon footprints and what we should all be doing to reduce the heavy carbon footprint many of us create just through daily living, the first things we think of are reducing the amount of air travel we do, cutting out unnecessary car journeys, reducing our beef intake or quitting beef completely and many other ‘obvious’ changes we can make.

But what about the internet – not only from a site creation perspective, but also from a usage perspective.

Here’s a story we found on Wired.com that we think is fascinating, and we’re sure you will too…

WordPress plugin designer Danny van Kooten – a Dutch programmer who invented the Mailchimp mailing list service plugin – decided some time ago to stop flying and eating beef to reduce his carbon footprint.

But recently, in March this year in fact, he took an additional step that has a far greater impact on carbon reduction, and actually took a whole lot less effort…a few keystrokes, to be precise.

What he realized – having invented this great Mailchimp plugin – is that by adding a few thousand lines of code to a website, he was causing sites, through the sending and receiving of requests and packets of information from hosting servers, to use a bit more energy each time somebody used the site.

And energy equals increased carbon footprint. This got Van Kooten riled up, so he took it upon himself to slim down his code by about 20 kilobytes to make it more efficient overall. Now, we all know that 20Kb is not a great deal, however when you factor in the 2-million websites that use his plugin every day, the scale of the actual impact becomes apparent.

According to Van Kooten, albeit he admits it’s a rough estimate, the slimmer code reduced the world’s monthly carbon dioxide output by around 60 000kg… which is remarkable!

And it turns out Van Kooten isn’t on his own – around the globe, and in our office too, designers and programmers are working harder to create lighter, more efficient and ultimately greener websites, apps, plugins and more.

A group of students in the USA created a new Instagram filter that reduces the file size of a photo by 40%, and as it’s a ‘retro filter’ the idea is to attract uptake through the unique nature of the outcome, with a good dollop of CO2 friendliness a net benefit to all.

How can we all help, you ask? Well, it’s as simple as this: if every adult in the UK sent one less email per day, we’d cut 16 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year – that’s about 22 round trips between London and New York!

The movement to reduce carbon dioxide pollution has to come from multiple parties though – from the designers and programmers to the big corporates, everyone has a role to play. Bitcoin’s yearly CO2 emissions equate to those of Sri Lanka, Neflix accounts for 13% of all video watched, and video accounts for 61% of all online activity.

So the message is clear – as we were all taught in the previous century with regard to waste, rubbish and the fossil fuel crisis, we need to make sustainable changes now across the digital landscape to help bring the overall effect back into an acceptable range.

At Realnet we care a great deal about playing our part in every aspect of sustainability and build our websites and other digital solutions to be as light and efficient as possible. Chat to us about how we can create or update your web design to be positive contributors to a more carbon-aware world. Call us on 01223 550800 or email info@realnet.co.uk.

Realnet is an established Cambridge digital agency, we have been helping all sorts of organisations with their online presence since 1998. From website design and ecommerce to digital marketing and PPC campaigns.

Contact us to make your website work harder for you.