Making The Web A Better Place: Guidelines For “Green” Web Design

“What needs to be highlighted here is the fact that the richer and more interactive website experiences we are creating are not going unnoticed. The files we create to build websites are stored on servers, viewed by personal computers, and connected via networks”. This all requires energy to then house, cool, power and deliver the data that makes up a website.” So, how we go “green”?

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Dr. Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist and Environmental Fellow, has researched the environmental impact of computing and calculated the CO2 emissions caused by individual use of the internet. His research, published in 2009, indicates that viewing a simple web page generates about 20 milligrams of CO2 per second. This rises to about 300mg of CO2 a second when viewing a website with complex images, animations or videos.

“So, when you are sitting in London viewing a website hosted in California, there are power plants on at least two continents actively pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in order for you to watch that video or read that online newspaper…

Since millions of people are surfing the web every hour of every day, that carbon footprint adds up to an astounding 2% of international emissions each year. In fact, according to the American research firm Gartner, the carbon footprint of information and communications technology exceeded that of the global aviation industry for the first time in 2007.”

Now while scientific measurements of CO2 and kilowatt hours are, to the average person, still a foggy area to get our heads around, what is important to consider is simply that every website we produce has a consequence. According to figures from, as of the 31st August 2010, there are at least 15.26 billion indexed pages. A very simplistic analysis here would be that, contrary how fast my broadband service is, because we make our graphic files larger together with the fact that we are producing more web pages, any new efficiency is counteracted. As noted, this would be a very generalized conclusion to draw.

One measuring tool

Dr. Wissner-Gross has co-founded CO2Stats, an online “environmental trustmark” calculator, designed to allow web designers and bloggers make their sites greener in an accountable way. CO2Stats says that it automatically monitors and neutralizes the end-to-end carbon footprint of websites — “not just the servers, but the visitors’ computers (while they are on your site) and the networks that connect them”.

Green-Certified-Site-by-CO2Stats 12822368450051 in Making The Web A Better Place: Guidelines For Green Web Design

CO2Stats allows web designers and bloggers to analyze their websites and put in place greener measures. It monitors and neutralizes the end-to-end carbon footprint of websites.

The changing face of an average web page

Results of various web optimization studies published at in July 2010 state that:

“In 1997, 90% of videos were under 45 seconds in length (Acharya & Smith 1998). In 2005, the median video was about 120 seconds long (Li et al. 2005). By 2007, the median video was 192.6 seconds in duration (Gill et al. 2007). The median bit rate of web videos grew from 200Kbps in 2005 to 328Kbps on YouTube in 2007. So by late 2007, the median video weighed in at over 63MB in file size. On YouTube, the average video size is 10MB, with over 65,000 new videos added every day”.

The conclusion of the report is:

“Within the last five years, the size of the average web page has more than tripled, and the number of external objects (EO) has nearly doubled. While broadband users have experienced faster load times, narrowband users have been left behind. With the average web page sporting more than 50 external objects, object overhead now dominates most web page delays. Minimizing HTTP requests by using CSS sprites, combining JavaScript or CSS files, reducing the number of EOs, and converting graphic effects to CSS while still retaining attractiveness, has become the most important skill set for web performance optimizers”.