Picture of a Luminary team member planting a mangrove tree in Bali

How to reduce your website’s carbon footprint

Websites can often be an oversight when calculating a business's carbon footprint, with this always-on asset contributing to global pollution. As our online ecosystem continues to grow, we review the ways we can clean up heavy websites or find ways to carbon offset.

Claire Dunton

By Claire Dunton, 10 November 20227 minute read

When we consider carbon offsetting, it’s typically the bigger, tangible actions that come to mind. The daily commute and other home habits have been a priority for individuals looking to reduce their impact, and businesses have taken larger strides in restructuring to minimise pollution points and unnecessary energy burning. What you may not know is that your website also emits a carbon output, with experts claiming that if the internet was a country, then it would rank number seven in the highest polluting countries. If there is a darker side to having always-on access to our favourite online destinations, it is this.

Let’s take a look under the proverbial hood and understand how a website's carbon footprint can be addressed.

How to calculate the carbon footprint of your website 

Website Carbon Calculator is leading the way in assessing the energy and emissions of a web page. This publicly accessed calculator was pioneered by London agency Wholegrain Digital, which specialises in designing ‘mission-critical, low-carbon websites’. The Website Carbon Calculator has found that 0.5 grams of CO2 is produced per page view on an average website. The resulting score of a website's carbon footprint is determined by the following data points:

  1. Data transfer over the wire
  2. Energy intensity of web data
  3. The energy source used by the data centre
  4. Website traffic
  5. Carbon intensity of electricity.

How to improve your website's energy consumption

In addition to the Website Carbon Calculator, businesses can work with their development teams to gain insight into the contributing factors that may be driving an energy-heavy website. There are some quick wins to be gained by addressing rich features on a website, with many of these improvements having a minimal impact on the website's look and feel. Ways to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption include:

  • Optimising file sizes to reduce the amount of data transferred (and subsequent energy used)
  • Reducing or consolidating video and removing auto-play features
  • Choosing a font that is a system font or minimising the number of different fonts 
  • Writing efficient, clean code 
  • Choosing a local CDN (content delivery network)
  • Exploring AMP (accelerated mobile pages) to deliver a faster mobile landing page that is pared back from the web page version
  • Switching to green hosting.

Luminary’s Managing Director, Adam Griffiths, has worked with many of Australia’s leading brands to strengthen their digital presence and advise on transformation strategies in an ever-evolving landscape. This includes addressing carbon impact.

“While most organisations now realise the importance of their website as a critical business asset, it is still overlooked when it comes to calculating their overall environmental and carbon impact. This needs to change, and our shared focus on sustainability needs to extend to the digital sphere.” 

How can businesses offset their website's carbon footprint?

The aforementioned carbon reduction strategies can be incredible in illuminating areas that require improvement, but is having a super-light carbon footprint realistic for every website? The answer is, it depends entirely on the website's purpose and the business behind it. If implementing these changes will severely impact the overall function of the website, then this arguably makes the website a carbon waste as it is not achieving its objective, yet it remains online in its pared back, ineffective state. An e-commerce website is a perfect example of a website that can only be so light without compromising its basic function and ability to deliver a customer experience that inspires and delights.

In this situation, a better solution is to explore ways to offset the website, placing businesses back in control of the transparency of their website's impact and the flexibility to approach offsetting in a way that makes sense for their business. 

In 2019, Luminary embarked on a full assessment of our carbon usage through an accredited company called Carbon Neutral and pledged to be carbon neutral by 1 July 2019. We achieved this aim – Luminary went carbon neutral just in time for our 20th birthday! This became the origin story for what would be an ongoing journey towards greater sustainability, with our offices across the globe closing in on unsustainable practices, and looking for opportunities to consistently improve in this area. 2019 saw 500 trees planted in Melbourne, and earlier this year our Bali team planted 300 mangroves.

Mangroves in Bali

Mangrove trees planted in Bali to offset annual carbon usage. 

Partnering with carbon offset providers

Luminary has celebrated many milestone moments, but few are as impactful to our agency’s ethos as becoming a B Corp in 2021. This rigorous assessment determines a business's commitment to the environment and the community, strengthening our resolve to mitigate our website's impact, and communicating to clients and our audience about what they can do to offset their own. You can check out Luminary’s B Corp scorecard here. While this might seem too daunting a task for a business simply wishing to improve its website's carbon emissions and energy consumption, B Corp endorses the following entities as partners and facilitators for carbon offsetting:

Benefits of reducing your website’s carbon footprint

There are many benefits to making environmental changes to your website. When our society places a greater focus on environmental practices, the impact of many companies taking small steps toward sustainability can result in a huge cumulative effect. Ninety-one percent of the Australian population (22.13 million) use the internet and are interacting with websites that create pollution. If all of these websites were carbon offsetting to reach neutral status, the CO2 in our immediate and global community would significantly change.

Consumers have become more astute in their brand loyalty in recent years, with sustainability becoming a growing metric for a customer's allegiance. By reducing the carbon output of your website, you can communicate to the market that this is a value reflected in not only physical assets but your online environments as well. There can also be a positive impact on a business's bottom line if these changes attract new customers, and the more sustainable tools and providers are more affordable and incur smaller energy costs. 

Commercial benefits of a lighter website

Chances are that you have conducted an SEO audit on your website and have uncovered elements that impact your site speed and subsequent SEO performance. Heavy design elements often contribute to slower load times, not only impacting SEO, but also the user experience. In fact, mobile-first indexing has been the direction Google has been moving towards since 2017, with websites published after 1 July 2019 having mobile-first indexing set as a default. This is a strong case for adopting a lighter website that is better geared toward mobile engagement and a responsive load time.

According to Google data, as the number of elements on a web page increases (files, text, images) from 400 to 6000, then the probability of conversion drops to as low as 95 percent. Similarly, as a page load goes from one second to 10 seconds, the bounce rate can be as high as 12 percent.

The benefit of a lighter website is that the overall performance improves and the chance of achieving the website's outcome (e.g. sale, contact form completion, engagement) increases.

Who should consider carbon offsetting a website?

Any business with a website can ultimately work to reduce its carbon footprint. Businesses that operate remotely and have not had to address the carbon output that is generated from a physical office may be prompted to explore their output. When considering how to reduce the carbon footprint of the home office, the website needs to be part of this assessment. Just like traditional office overheads, a website can also change in a year and will need to be offset accordingly.

Agencies that create websites can also explore more sustainable changes, collaborating with clients to prioritise development choices that are less carbon-consuming and shortlisting external suppliers and specialists that have carbon offset plans. 

Businesses that are already championing a sustainable business model can explore how their digital footprint can also be put to the same rigour. Reducing a website's carbon output may not be a mainstream concept, and championing a sustainable business model can be an all-consuming task. However, doing things a certain way because ‘they have always been done that way’ does not help our environment, and it is not where innovation lives.

Luminary can work with businesses looking to achieve a digital transformation and can assist in offsetting a website's carbon impact. Contact our team today to learn how we can provide a website that balances business and commercial outcomes with the cost of carbon.

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