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How to reduce the carbon footprint of your website: to net-zero and beyond

website carbon footprit

There are a lot of simple things that can be done to reduce your website carbon emissions, and there’s no reason you can’t start right now. Follow these simple steps, and we’ll show you the best and fastest ways to reduce your carbon footprint to net-zero and below.

It’s all over the media – social media, television, and newspapers – that global temps are on the rise. But did you know that your website might be contributing to a big chunk of it?

That’s right. Publishing everything to the cloud may sound like utopia, but there is more involved than airwaves and glitter sprinkles of magic technology.

Computers sit behind it all, and much like any other kind of warehouse, thousands or millions of them fill endless hallways of cabinets in buildings all over the world. These servers are what powers the internet, and it takes quite a bit of power to make them work.

Electronics heat up, and without fans to dissipate the thermals, chips could blow, servers could crash, and our internet wonderland could come crashing down. Unfortunately, most of these servers are actually powered by coal!

What is a Website Carbon Footprint?

Carbon emissions come from everywhere, but overall they represent a measure of how much energy is needed to keep a website online. It’s the main driving factor, but it shows up in different ways.

Website traffic levels

The amount of traffic your site receives directly impacts its power consumption, but it isn’t quite that simple. The machine powering your website needs a certain amount of power to keep running, so if you have low traffic, it doesn’t need to boost much beyond this base power limit.

If you are getting millions of views per day, it bogs down the system, makes the components inside the machine work harder, and thus requires more power to work.

The amount of power used per visitor

The more your website delivers in terms of media (or the more it serves in tech lingo) correlates directly to the amount of power it uses.

A simple text webpage can handle more visitors for the same power than a site that dumps tons of videos and pictures to the user. More information equals more energy.

The type of server that your website uses is important

There are different types of CPUs and different boards that makeup servers. None are as bad as the old mainframe computers, but more energy efficient machines use less energy to do the same amount of work.

Viewer location

Simply put, the farther away your target audience is from the physical server, the more energy is required to deliver your website to them.

The hardware your viewers are using

Big college networks use more power than personal computers, which use more power than laptops, which use more power than mobile devices, which use more power than Raspberry Pi.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton you can do about this one, but we will talk about what you can do and how you can actually change the habits of your own audience.

How to Reduce Your Website Carbon Footprint

According to SustainableBrands.com, each time a person loads your website, it releases about 6 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere. That’s roughly 166 views per kilogram, and 166,000 views per metric ton!

More than you thought? Us too.

If you want a better measure of exactly how much you are using, you might check out websitecarbon.com for a free test of your site. Their website carbon footprint calculator is totally free to use and super easy. Simply put in your address and let it work the magic.

The results are easy to read and quite thorough. It’ll give you the average carbon per page visit, scan your server to see if it is powered by renewable energy, and even the amount of trees needed to offset your footprint for 10,000 visitors per month, which you can scale as you need to.

From there, you can decide on your plan of action. Whether that is optimizing your website to reduce the CO2 per visitor, switching to a hosting service that uses sustainable energy, or simply planting some fruit trees in front of your business.

Making a Carbon-Neutral Website

Now that you know how much carbon your website is chucking out into the atmosphere, and you have some ideas about how to fix it, let’s talk specifics.

Planting Trees

This is everyone’s favorite option, but unfortunately it isn’t quite that simple. You see, when someone plants a tree, it’s typically a young tree, and young trees don’t sequester as much carbon as big trees.

You see, the amount of carbon a tree captures is directly related to how much weight it gains. The bigger it gets in diameter, and the faster it grows, the more carbon it needs to make all that extra wood.

Think of it in terms of tree rings. A tiny sapling on a stalk the size of your thumb will put on much less weight in a year (because trees only add one ring at a time) than an old oak with a 36-inch diameter. The bigger they get, the more carbon they need to add a tree ring. Simple, right?

Planting trees sounds good, but they don’t really come into their own until later. By comparison, it might make more sense to concentrate on growing a thick grassy pasture compared to dropping a few saplings in the dirt. And once you mow it, all of that grassy weight starts to break down and create a carbon rich soil that makes stuff grow even faster!

Either way, even if you can’t measure how much its doing, planting something is much preferred to paving over the grassy areas.

Reducing your Carbon Emissions per Visitor

Think of it like this. Each bit of data your server has to send costs energy. It also hits you in the SEO when your page is heavy and takes a long time to load. It is therefore double the advantage to start by snipping out the extra data.

Embed videos, and ensure that they are as lightweight as possible without sacrificing their quality. Use compressed formats like MPEG-4 and reduce the pixel size if possible. The same goes for art on your site. Make sure graphics are only as large as they need to be to get the job done.

Shrink your logo and ditch the giant wallpapers. If you depend on high-def graphics, then link them individually from thumbnails so that each visitor is only pulling the stunning photos they would like to see, rather than downloading everything to simply browse.

Make your website mobile friendly. If it can be browsed on the user’s phone on their lunch break, then they won’t need to boot up the laptop just to see all the content, and even when they do, it should be lightweight so that at least on your end, you aren’t burning up the pipeline and spewing greenhouse gas to get it to them.

Buying Carbon Offsets

It might be seen as shady by some, but there is no substitute for investing in the environment. This isn’t a matter of passing the buck, it’s a matter of accountability, and carbon offsets are an accessible way for companies to help the planet from the center of urban environments where their other options are limited.

Land values are going up, but there is still a lot of wilderness out there that houses wildlife, trees, praries, and wildflowers.

By investing in some property, you’ll ensure that you are keeping a little chunk of wilderness that will continue to do what it is already doing, converting CO2 back into oxygen. In addition, the wildlife that are continually facing habitat destruction will have a place to go.

Meadows and grasslands help all kinds of species of important pollinators like bees and wasps in addition to our furry friends, and trees give home to hawks and eagles and other migratory birds.

Of course, sometimes it’s best to let the experts handle carbon emissions. Places like The Carbon Offset Company will take care of looking after the environment and doing the calculations, while giving you an easy payment plan to balance out your own carbon budget.

Conclusion

There are a lot of simple things that can be done to reduce your website carbon footprint and emissions, and there’s no reason you can’t start right now. Follow these simple steps, or come up with your own creative solutions. Attack global warming from both sides, with reduction of CO2 emissions and buying up some carbon offsets or investing in your own landscaping projects. And most of all, have fun with it.

Further reading:

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