Posted on
15.03.22
Words by
Andy May
Read time
3 minutes
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Making web sustainability part of the business growth agenda

A lot of people don’t realise that their websites leave a carbon footprint and can use significant amounts of fossil fuel-derived energy. Whilst digital communications are far from a ‘new’ concept, for many there has been an increasing shift from print to digital channels, in large part, to address finite resource depletion – less paper, fewer trees felled. But the result of that digital shift has, in some ways, simply kicked the can down the road.

The quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 has tended to focus on issues such as transportation, manufacturing and building. The internet, which uses 10% of the world’s electricity, most of which comes from fossil fuels, and contributes to around 4% of carbon emissions, continues to fly under the radar.   

The pandemic has made its presence known, too. Many companies have accelerated the digitisation of their client and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by as much as three to four years.

Unlike cars and factories, where we can see the belching fumes with our own eyes and understand what we need to do to mitigate the damage, we’re just getting to grips with the ‘invisible’ impact that websites have on the planet.

We are seeing things start to move in a positive direction, however, as environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues continue to rise up the corporate agenda (no wonder, with ESG assets predicted to hit $53 trillion by 2025).

Developing a more sustainable website as a way of reflecting and amplifying a business’s ESG intent can go a long way to demonstrate integrity and show that it’s doing more than ‘talking the talk’; it’s a legitimate way to make a real difference.

Digital pioneers

There are some innovative developments happening. VW Canada launched ‘a more sustainable site for a more sustainable future’ recently to reflect its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint while launching a range of electric SUVs. The website uses ‘ASCII art’ to depict the cars rather than photographic images, which reduces loading times, creating a lower carbon footprint. The end result produces 99% less carbon per page view on average than traditional websites.

At SampsonMay, we’ve been on a website sustainability journey, too – for ourselves and on behalf of our clients.

We recently redeveloped our website, improving UX, reducing page load times, optimising fonts and addressing all image formats, moving and still. Doing so enabled us to remove our page load animations which, albeit aesthetically pleasing, could be slow, especially on multiple page visits. We also reduced carousels and removed background videos and autoplays. The result is lighter, faster and greener, and the feedback has been really positive.

We’re certainly not advocating that everything should be black and white with no images. First and foremost, a website needs to serve its objective effectively and promote purpose-driven growth for brands. But our website has a new pace and energy and, ultimately, takes end-users to where they need to be faster. We’re now cleaner than 55% of other web pages out there; we’re run on sustainable rather than standard energy, and we produce well under the goal of 1g of CO2 every time someone visits.

Cleaning up

We’re having some pretty impressive results as we drive our clients’ business and sustainability agendas with more appropriate web design, too. Take Autolus, a world-leading immunotherapy company. A full architecture and UX review was needed to make the site intuitive, clean and simple to use. While we were in the initial strategic phase, from discovery and workshops through to wireframes, design, build and hosting, we were able to balance the need to do justice to the brand story and new-business initiatives while keeping carbon footprint front of mind and honouring Autolus’s ESG ambitions – without compromising content and design. The results were pretty impressive, with web pages that use sustainable energy, are 70% cleaner than average, and only produce 0.49g of CO2 per page visit rather than the average 2g.

Goal-driven

Our overall approach to web design for global brands hasn’t changed. We continue to partner with businesses – be they multinationals, established independents or progressive start-ups – to provide strategic consultancy, branding, design and content creation services that drive growth and enable those businesses to reach, or exceed, their targets.

What we are doing increasingly, though, as website sustainability becomes a greater focus, is introducing strategic and appropriate initiatives that, alongside helping those companies achieve their business goals, ensure they are also genuinely leaner, cleaner and greener.

Coming up in this blog series we will be looking at what the digital sustainability agenda means for design, content and UX, technology and development considerations and hosting.

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