It might come as a surprise, but using internet and better yet building the internet is a burden for our climate.
Honestly, as a software developer, even I hadn’t thought about this too much before, but it does make a lot of sense.
It is estimated that there are billions of websites running in the internet, and if you think about it, all these billions of websites require energy to run.
Every single time you access internet - be it the Facebook feed, Google Search, Google Maps or your favourite blog, there is a piece of hardware that handles the request and uses energy to deliver documents or content for you.
As developed countries are leading the way to a more sustainable world by taking actions on fighting climate change, internet usage needs to be thought about as well.
So, what is there to be done as a webmaster and a website owner to make sure you are doing what there is to be done in order to make internet more green and sustainable?
Building sustainable and eco-friendly websites
As I started blogging during the 2020 and 2021 pandemic, I really put a lot of thought into what kind of blog I want to build in technical terms.
In my previous posts I have talked about disliking the WordPress ecosystem and going as far as building my own content management system from scratch.
Once I was getting to a point with my own content management system where I was finally happy with the outcome and I decided to open-source it, I realised that using a content management system all together was way too much for running just a blog.
I started thinking about ways I could get rid of the web server and the database and just getting back to running a static website.
The reason I wanted to do this was because there is almost zero overhead for the maintainability of the website when all there is, is static content. If I were to run a web server and a database, then there would always be the possibility for getting hacked and at least being vulnerable for attacks.
At the time, I didn’t even consider the fact that this decision also affect the carbon footprint of my blog and my website, but it actually is the case.
Getting rid of code bloat
Internet is getting quite bloated as more and more people are being introduced into building and creating websites with bloated ecosystems.
What it means when a website is bloated is that there is unnecessary code which is not required to run the website, but it is loaded anyway.
Getting rid of code bloat is like being introduced to minimalism - you get rid of unnecessary stuff in your life that provide little to no value.
It might seem like nothing to add a small plugin to your WordPress website but it does bring unnecessary overhead for the website and every time visitor loads a page and they have to download code that does nothing, then there is wasted energy.
This is usually happening in a very small scale, like kilobytes, but as that keeps adding up and your site gets millions of visits, it keeps adding up and you might end up forcing visitors to download megabytes and gigabytes of unnecessary data, which again, requires energy to do so.
It takes conscious efforts to build websites that have efficient code coverage and only run code that is necessary for the end-users.
Getting rid of unnecessary servers and databases
Running a server is like running a printer in a library - every time someone requests a book from the library, the printer prints you a new copy of your requested book. The printer might be old and inefficient, might contain bugs and other security vulnerabilities that could be used for malicious activities.
If your website is only serving static documents and there really isn’t a heavy reasoning, like lot’s of business logic to run a web server then from sustainability’s perspective, it makes more sense to get rid of the web server.
The same thing goes for databases. If there is no heavy reasoning to be running a database then I very much encourage to get rid of the database as well.
Texts, headings, links, lists, images etc. none require to run a web server or a database. All of these types of contents can be wrapped into a single document which can be served for the visitors from buckets or edge servers.
Think of it like getting rid of the printer that always prints the same piece of document for every one who requests it. Instead there is one copy of the document, which can be served infinite amount of times without using unnecessary energy to produce the same document over and over again.
Moving to static websites from content management systems
Static website is a perfect eco-friendly, lightweight and secure alternative for running a blog or any other kind of website where there is no need for a web server or a database.
Hosting a static website is also cheaper than running a dedicated or shared server because there is less resources needed for serving static content.
It also doesn’t take too much of coding to build one yourself, which is what I personally did with my blog.
It took me less than a weekend to build my own static site generator which is based on JSON objects.
The reason I wanted to build my own static site generator was that I couldn’t find any other JSON based static site generators and most of the solutions provided little to no customisation options for my own needs.
Optimising website for page speed
When optimising website speed and performance, developers try to get rid of unnecessary code and libraries or try to minimise them to be more lightweight.
There are many ways website owners can optimise their websites for page speed and performance such as image optimisation, getting rid of code bloat, optimising dns, using cache etc.
When I first started optimising my website for page speed and performance, I used Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to give me tips and hints to improve my page speed score.
Google’s Core Web Vitals is also a great metric to get a good sense of what things are considered important with page speed for the end-user.
Optimising my own blog for Core Web Vitals with the help of PageSpeed Insights ultimately led me to get rid of almost everything from my already optimised blog.
Currently the only overhead piece of code I consider to have in my blog is the reactions and comments sections, which I have tricked to only load when a user scrolls to the sections at the bottom of the article.
I am also looking into better optimising my blog images at the moment.
Hosting with renewable energy
Renewable energy hosting, also known as green hosting means that the service provider who is hosting your website or service is doing so in a carbon neutral way.
This means that all the energy that is used for running your website or service is either coming from a renewable energy source or is offset by other carbon neutral activities.
Google Cloud Platform
As a big Google Cloud advocate, I have closely followed Google’s business decisions when it comes to their cloud services.
Even though I recently decided to move to Cloudflare, I really see Google as a go-to choice when it comes to hosting and running cloud services from sustainability’s perspective.
Since 2017, Google has matched 100 percent of its global electricity use with purchases of renewable energy.
As I was looking to move my static website away from Google’s premises I was looking at a few key factors:
- Best CDN
- Lowest cost
- Sustainability outlook
- Customer service
- Ease of use
Cloudflare recently rolled out a new feature to their platform called Cloudflare Pages which I was very curious about.
As I was trying to get rid of my Google’s Bucket + Loadbalancer setup due to it’s cost, I was mostly weighting between Google Firebase hosting and Cloudflare Pages.
I knew Google Cloud seemed great from the sustainability’s perspective, but so did Cloudflare.
Google won Cloudflare in terms of best CDN from my perspective, but just barely.
Cloudflare however beat Google when it came to pricing and ease-of-use.
Other hosting providers
The Green Web Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that helps people understand the sustainable aspect of running services across internet.
The Green Web Foundation hosting directory is a list of hosting providers around the world where you can find providers that are using renewable energy for running their services.
You can also find a Green Web Checker -tool from the Green Web Foundation website to see if your own website or blog is run by renewable energy.
I know mine is.
Running the Green Web Checker -tool on your website gives you a nice little certificate if your website is using renewable energy.
As someone who has worked full-time as a software developer since 2015, I only really realised the impact and the importance of sustainability when building my own blog during 2020 pandemic.
It really does seem like a far fetched idea that browsing the internet requires quite a bit of energy somewhere, when you are getting your content in front of your eyes.
I am quite happy so far with the changes I have made to my own blog from sustainability’s perspective and I am still looking to improve and optimise as the time goes on.
Not only is optimising my website better for the end-user, it is also good for our planet in general.