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What is sustainable web design?

We examine what this actually means, why it matters now more than ever, and share 6 ways you can implement sustainable design in your own website.

With sustainability becoming increasingly important, many businesses are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. After making changes in their operations, it seems only logical for their technological impact to be the next step.

This is where sustainable web design comes into play. Despite being a popular topic of conversation in 2022, there is still some confusion about what sustainable website design actually means.

Here we’re going to explain exactly what sustainable web design is and how you can make your own website more environmentally conscious.

And if you’d like to see some designs “in the wild”, check out our 10 examples of sustainable website design.

(Photo by Peter Fogden on Unsplash)

An intro to sustainable web design

There is a lot of debate surrounding what sustainable web design is.

As Tom Greenwood, Co-Founder of London-based design agency Wholegrain Digital and Author of Sustainable Web Design, says, “the internet may be digital, but it carries a very physical cost. From image files to colours to coding languages to servers, the choices we make in our web work can eat up electricity and spit out carbon – and as the internet grows, so does the cost to the environment.” 


Greenwood describes sustainable web design as an approach whereby web services are designed with consideration for the planet and people first. Tom says for a website to fall under the category of having sustainable web design, it must deliver “digital products and services that respect the principles of the Sustainable Web Manifesto: clean, efficient, open, honest, regenerative, and resilient.”

Why should you make your website sustainable? 

It seems essential to dive deeper into why sustainable web design is critical. According to The Sustainable Web Manifesto, if the internet were a country, it would be the seventh most significant polluter. When you are hit with a statistic like this, it raises concern about how big of an impact the digital industries have on the planet. 

When it comes to sustainable web design, it is centered around reducing consumption and resource use. Digital is often an overlooked area which is why we must focus on it. Given our digital activity’s extensive footprint, we must assess and start to make changes. 

There are many benefits to adopting these changes. One primary advantage is helping the planet by reducing resource consumption and emissions. This means we are reducing the energy needed to run your website efficiently. However, there are other advantages that go beyond the planet. 

Designing your website with reducing carbon emissions in mind can help you save your money in the long run too. If you adopt eco-friendly digital practices, you can lessen your website’s resource use. This can significantly help lower your website’s development and hosting costs. 

Additionally, eco-conscious web design practices will enable you to create a more accessible, fast and more user-friendly website. Those factors will have positive knock-on benefits on your site’s SEO rankings. Those improvements positively enhance your customer’s site experience and make them want to return to your website. Overall, this helps to improve efficiency and prevent potential customers from bouncing off your website. 

Ultimately, sustainability has a crucial role in business. A 2021 study revealed that over a third of worldwide consumers are happy to pay more for sustainable products and services. Therefore, engaging in sustainable web design is also good for business and helps you stand out as environmentally-focused products and services are increasingly sought after today. 

That’s not to say we advocate doing this with the aim of making more money, although as a business this will clearly be a positive side effect of reducing your carbon emissions. You also need to be wary of falling into the trap of greenwashing, whereby you may be taking advantage of this opportunity, and marketing some dubious green credentials, in order to make more money.

What is the carbon footprint of your existing website?

Here at Ryte we take sustainability issues seriously which is why we’ve developed our very own carbon emissions website calculator, as well as the option of offsetting and reducing any emissions. We’ve partnered with ClimatePartner who aim to help businesses reduce their own carbon footprints. 

Why not head to our carbon footprint calculator and see how your website is currently performing?

What elements underpin sustainable web design?

The Sustainable Web Manifesto is a public declaration on a mission to create a sustainable internet. They encourage businesses to embrace sustainability in their work by signing their manifesto so that we can establish a web that is good for the planet and people. Once signed, businesses must adopt sustainable web design via their six principles. 

These principles include providing services powered by renewable energy sources and ensuring they use the least amount of energy and material resources possible. In addition, products and services are accessible, they allow users to control their data and enable the open exchange of information. Honesty is crucial because they believe no services or products should exploit or mislead users. 

The business’s products and services must also support an economy that nourishes the planet and people. Finally, the business’s products and services must function in the places and times where people require them the most. So far, 2,277 people have already signed this manifesto, pledging their commitment to begin applying these principles in their work.    

6 ways to adopt sustainable web design

After hearing about the importance of sustainable web design, you are probably wondering how you can make your web design more eco-friendly. Below are some simple practices you can implement on your web pages.

1 – Opt for green website hosting

When it comes to sustainable web design, one of the best steps you can take is opting for green website hosting. Put simply; green web hosting is a greener way to host websites. It is a web hosting solution that is powered by eco-friendly resources like renewable energy, avoiding the more carbon emitting options that don’t use clean energy.

The companies providing green website hosting use these green resources to power their services which helps people use their websites for good and reduce their carbon footprint. When you consider the size of the internet, and the amount of data transfers happening every second, you begin to see the scale of the problem – and the potential benefit we’d see if everyone was to transition to renewable energy for their website and data centers.

2 – Make information easy to find by enhancing website navigation

This one aligns very much with the Sustainable Web Manifesto’s guidelines. For environmentally sound web design, you should try to make information easy to find. Accessibility is key not only for a greener website but also for a better user experience.

It all comes down to how simple it is to navigate your website. This reduces the time people spend clicking on your website, scouring for the information they need. Doing this will also help in giving your customers total transparency. 

Ryte’s own platform has powerful Accessibility features built into it – as well as putting Sustainability as another key element of any website.

3 – Increase efficiency on your website

To be more eco-conscious with your web design, reducing your resource consumption to enhance efficiency is vital. This will ultimately optimise your website and improve speed and overall performance. 

If you wish to do this, that means compressing your images, using caching, setting up CDN’s, avoiding the use of custom fonts, and reducing any other file sizes when possible. 

You can take this even further by looking at the scripts your website is using and culling any that aren’t necessary, or looking for more efficient coding methods. Lazy loading of elements – like images – as they appear within the users browser as opposed to frontloading everything can also help with wastage. 

There are lots more ways to further increase your site speed, reducing its size and emissions in the process. 

4 – Think about the media you are using on your website

This is another important one – take some time to think about the visual content you are using on your website. While high-quality photography and videography pack a punch, these forms of media affect your website’s environmental footprint. Moreover, not every piece of content probably adds value to your website. 

Therefore, you can probably remove some and still have an impact on customers. It’s about striking a balance between visually appealing, high-quality content and driving environmental sustainability. Lazy loading of images should be implemented either way, reducing the amount of content requested at any given time. 

5 – Opt for a responsive design

Choosing a responsive design may not appear like a sustainable web design practice, but it definitely is one. Responsive design is a web design that can be easily viewed on multiple devices – vital in today’s world of multiple devices and screens accessing the internet.

Opting for this kind of design means your website will adapt to the different formats, and you will be able to lessen your resource consumption in the process. 

You need to be mindful of ensuring your site is super quick for mobile users who may be with intermittent or unreliable connection speeds. With most sites on the mobile-first index, Google will also be looking at site speed from their mobile crawler – so it pays to prioritize mobile users. 

6 – Consider the technology you are using

If you truly care about being a more sustainable business, you must also consider things like the web technology you are using to create or maintain your site. 

According to an article in the BBC, an estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions produced are related to running and manufacturing digital technologies.Simple changes like retaining physical devices (computers, laptops, mobile phones) for longer and not upgrading so regularly can save a lot of unnecessary carbon emissions. 

Completing a web development technology audit is a good idea. Look at your existing technology and find ways to cut back if possible – and that can include the software you use whilst running your business online. Are there more eco-friendly CMS options, web frameworks, software available for you? 

Final thoughts on sustainable web design

Adopting sustainable web design is a perfect way for you to use your business as a force for good. There is a lot of confusion about what an eco-conscious website is. Sustainable web design is a means of designing web services that prioritize the planet and people.

These web designs positively affect the environment, society, and the economy. There are an array of practices you can incorporate that embody the principles of sustainable web design. However, the most important one has to be in reducing your own resource use. 

What are your thoughts on sustainable web sites and the future of web design? Will we finally see sustainability issues at the heart of new web frameworks and included amongst best practises? What more can be done to make a website greener and more efficient? 

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Published on Mar 4, 2022 by Matt Tutt