Sustainable Web Design

“If the Internet was a country, it would be the 7th largest polluter.”
— from the Sustainable Web Manifesto 

Using the Internet is bad for the environment?

It’s astonishing how much carbon is emitted due to Internet usage. Before I get into the why and how of that, let me say that there are so many benefits to having the Internet and people are so addicted to using it that we are not going to get people to stop using it. How long do you think it will take to get all the gasoline vehicles off the roads and shut down all the fossil fuel power plants?

Therefore, it makes sense to be more conscious and more sensible about how we do things online and its connection to the environment.

No-code website solutions like WordPress, Wix, et al, are very popular, templated, easy to use, inexpensive, and terrible for the environment. Look at which calculates the carbon scores for websites.

No-code websites are pre-packaged with almost all the functionality the designer thinks you might want to use. Most people don’t use all that functionality, which means it has a lot of unnecessary code and therefore emits more carbon.

start from scratch?

An article in Forbes magazine is about why web designers need to think about “sustainable web design.” The quote I started with -“If the Internet was a country, it would be the 7th largest polluter.” – comes from the Sustainable Web Manifesto. Designing a sustainable website isn’t easy for the average person. For example, to make cleaner, lighter code, you need to build from scratch. Even professional web designers use templates these days.

My Poets Online website was built from scratch, so I ran a test and the result is “Hurrah! This web page is cleaner than 84% of web pages tested.” That’s good. Next, I ran the test on this WordPress website, which is built from a template, and the result is “Uh oh! This web page is dirtier than 69% of web pages tested.” Not good.

What can I do to make it greener? Rebuilding it from scratch is unlikely to happen. I just don’t have the time. I have 11 of my own websites/blogs and I have six clients for whom I manage websites. Your best opportunity is to go green when you start a new website.

But there’s also the hosting. A hosting company that uses renewable energy to power its websites is better. I don’t know what WordPress uses.

You can use as little video as possible since they make a site slower and a bigger drain. The same goes for images. Smaller is better. Do you use a png that is 3500 pixels wide but resize it online to 400 px? Then just upload a 400 px version instead.

Remove unnecessary code. That is easier said than done and especially difficult for someone using templated sites. In fact, messing with the code may not even be possible. Squarespace hides the code pretty well and one reason is that you can change a line or two and wreck your entire site if you don’t really know how to code.

The first step in greener websites is educating designers. In my own informal survey of friends who have or design websites, I found that none of them knew what I meant by sustainable web design, and almost all of them could not tell me how a website pollutes.

Kinds of Web Developers

Web development today is a broad field. It has changed much since I first started to learn HTML in the 1990s and create websites that it is almost unrecognizable. For one thing, it is now a part of almost every industry. I can’t imagine any business – from the local pizza shop to an industry leader – not having a website (possibly multiple websites) and a strong social media presence.

Some of the biggest changes I have seen came from the rise of mobile, faster bandwidths and cloud-based software.

But I still have people ask me when they hear that one thing I do is web development is “What does web development mean?” It’s a tough question because it varies so widely. Web developers design and create websites, and applications, use cloud-based software, maintain sites and handle the technical aspects of a site’s function.

For that local pizza shop, all that may be done by one outsourced company or even one person, but for large companies, all of that entails large departments with the work being specialized and handled by different individuals.

When I started building websites in the 1990s, it was for myself. Next, came websites for the school district where I worked. When I moved to work at a university, I became part of a team and had specific parts of the very large website that I was responsible for maintaining and designing.

Today I would put developers into some general categories.

Back-end web developers handle the technical construction of a website. They create the basic framework of a website. If you’re using a platform like WordPress, they do most of the back-end.

Front-end web developers are responsible for how a website looks. They do the layout, incorporate graphics, and applications for things like e-commerce.

Full stack web developers manage both the front- and back-end of a website or application and are good choices for smaller businesses.

API (Application Programming Interface) developers allow applications to access data and interact with other external software or operating systems. This is critical to the online processes businesses use.

UI/UX developers specialize in the user interface and user experience and creating an online customer experience that is both visually appealing and functional.