WPO Members Only Forums Podcasts Low Carbon Web Design

Low Carbon Web Design

WPO Members Only Forums Podcasts Low Carbon Web Design

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    • #7237

      Low Carbon Web Design (Podcast)
      Chris M 17 mins. 45 secs.
      Download Podcast (MP3)
      Download Transcript (PDF)

      Today I want to talk to you about the correlation between optimized websites and low carbon web design. I will break it down into what the problem is, how we got to the problem, were we are going from the problem, where Google are trying to go and how it all ties together. And how WPO can help you with it.

      So, Let’s Dive Right In…

      The Greenhouse Effect

      The Earth has an extraordinary system known as The Greenhouse Effect. Like a greenhouse, the heat from the sun is soaked up, and then the heat is released at a slower rate than absorbed. Instead of glass, our planet is wrapped in a blanket known as the atmosphere, which is made up of different gases such as, water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide which has all helped maintain the perfect temperature for all the creatures on our planet for millennia.

      Our natural carbon cycle was well-balanced. Carbon dioxide would release into the air, and nature’s carbon sinks would store or recycle the excess carbon, allowing the Earth and all its residents to thrive with an abundance of biodiversity. All contributing in their own way to a well-balanced eco-system.

      On land, trees (and other plants) soak up carbon dioxide, grow stronger and in exchange release oxygen into the air, providing for life within and all around them. The pressure between the atmosphere and sea water pushes excess carbon dioxide into the ocean. As it dissolves, the carbon no longer traps heat, and as it mixes with the seawater it forms carbonic acid.

      As marine life goes about their business maintaining a complex eco-system, they constantly mix the water, bringing the cold water to the surface and pulling the carbonic acid down to the bottom of the ocean. The carbon is absorbed by marine plants and, like trees, release oxygen in exchange which in turn is raised to the surface with the cold water.

      Carbon dioxide is also absorbed by phytoplankton, who are consumed by zooplankton and smaller fish, thus starting the food chain locally and globally. In fact, incredibly phytoplankton are responsible for over half of the world’s photosynthesis.

      So, What’s The Problem?

      The problem began by pumping excessive carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thickening the blanket with Greenhouse gases, making it harder for the now denser atmosphere to release heat.
      The key change was industry, which started with an invention called the atmospheric engine, designed to drain water from mines and increase productivity. About 50 years later in 1760’s a Scottish gentleman by the name of James Watt, designed a steam engine which doubled the fuel efficiency of the atmospheric engine. Once that patent came through, the first industrial revolution followed, laying the foundation for industry as we know it.

      By the 1870’s, electricity, oil and gas hit the main stage, letting the genie out the bottle as our lives became more dependent on these energies. A hundred years after that in the 1970’s the rise of electronics, telecommunications and computers gave us a third revolution, which pioneered its way to the fourth industrial revolution. The Internet.

      All these stages of industry are woven into our lives shaping how we share, think, consume, behave, live, and even destroy.

      For over two hundred and fifty years we have been building, adapting, and capitalising on these energies. Inventing new ways to use them and sell more, constantly accelerating the amount of CO2 being pumped into our atmosphere. In recent decades, Earth’s growing population combined with our reliance on technologies of all 4 industrial revolutions indicates that our need for power is only going to increase.

      The Compounding Effect: Destroying Our Natural Carbon Sinks

      Pumping alarming quantities of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere is only one side of the coin. Human consumption is directly compounding the issue by destroying our natural carbon sinks.
      De-forestation is killing our biodiversity, causing the irreversible extinction of species. Species in which our eco-system rely on. De-forestation also affects the water cycle. Trees absorb groundwater and release it into the atmosphere. As we are cutting down over an acre and a half of forest every second, the climate keeps getting drier. The leading cause of de-forestation is agriculture which is already making a loss due to changing conditions and soil erosion. It’s estimated that by the end of this century there will be no rainforests left.

      When we think of our oceans, plastic pollution is the first thing to come to mind, which in itself is brutal. Killing marine life and polluting the water.

      However, a more alarming issue is that commercial fishing has destroyed the seabed with trawlers, leaving those carbon munching plankton, coral, and marine plants dead. We have over-fished for so long that the population of marine life is extremely low (which also include the bycatch). Marine species have decreased by 39% in the last 40 years. Leaving the ocean further emptied, polluted and warmer for it.

      All this heat has been intensely melting the ice caps for years. When the ice caps melt and the soil thaws out, gigatons of methane which is 10 times denser than CO2 will be released into the atmosphere, along with other Greenhouse gases, that have been trapped there for millions of years by the ice. If this happens, we will be over the tipping point.

      As our oceans become an ever more vacant graveyard, there are less marine life mixing the water to create the cooling effect and next to nothing left of the seabeds to exchange carbon for oxygen. With very little left in nature to soak up carbon dioxide, the blanket is thickening at an insane rate.

      To see the results of climate change, simply look around or put on the news. We are seeing flash floods, droughts, soil erosion, forest fires, acid rain, islands falling below sea level and costal settlements being forced to leave their homes. Climate change is speeding up at such a rate that experts predict that countries such as Vietnam could be 90% under water by 2050. The human population keeps growing, biodiversity keeps diminishing and there are less inhabitable places to live. Extreme weather, famine and climate refugees are already increasing.

      Now that we have an overview of the crisis we face. Allow me cheer you up a bit by saying there is some hope.

      Building a Sustainable Future

      There are incredible technologies and innovations already operational. Renewable energies are allowing us to move away from burning fossil fuels. There are clever farming techniques to save water and energy while running more efficiently. Electric vehicles are already in our lives. Carbon capture technologies and farms are coming on in leaps and bounds and, of course, we have started to plant more trees.

      Scientists are also working on ways to freeze some of the ice caps to avoid releasing all that trapped methane gas into our atmosphere. There have also been some promising ideas to encourage the oceans to spring back to life.

      As we see the effects of climate change around us, globally every time we turn on the news, and for some, just out the window. Resulting in people taking action, which is resonating across the world.

      There is time to turn it around before the tipping point, there just isn’t much of it. So, all our individual efforts are to slow down the thickening of the blanket which will create more of a buffer.

      The sustainable revolution has begun. If we can slow our emissions enough, we can create time for sustainable solutions to be put into place. If we can do that, we are looking at a healthy sustainable future. Part of that future is the web.

      Creating a More Sustainable Internet

      Google started the journey to a cleaner Internet where mobile first, performance, speed, UX and, of course, quality content was to play a major role in delivering relevant information quickly and presented thoughtfully.

      Think of all the updates from Pigeon, Panda, Hummingbird all the way up to BERT. The changes made since 2010 on major updates was cleaning up the SERP, placing poor quality sites and more importantly bandits under penalty. While encouraging high-quality sites that are relevant to rank better. Throughout these updates Google knew moving forward, we must think mobile-first.

      Googles Climate Pledge for Carbon-Free Energy

      Google presents about 2 trillion search queries every year. Luckily Googles search engine is very fast and light. Producing only 0.2g of CO2 per search query compared to the average web page producing 1.76g of CO2 per page view. Still, those 2 trillion search queries produce 400,000 tonnes of CO2 every year. It begs the question; how much carbon production is created by our websites?

      Well, Google inspired me. They became carbon neutral in 2007 by investing heavily in high quality carbon offsets. By 2017 Googles efforts paid off as they had procured enough carbon offsets to neutralise their legacy emissions as well, and they are not stopping there. Google aim to become the first major company to operate on 100% carbon-free energy. They are also working on other solutions and technologies that follow the same ethos.

      Now, with that in mind, consider where we are and where we are going…

      Mobile-First & Core Web Vitals: Encouraging Low Carbon Websites

      From the announcement in 2016 to completely switch to over to Mobile-First Indexing and as of March 2021 there has been a notable advantage converting to optimized Mobile-First websites. One major incentive being Search Engine Optimization. Yet, most are still building websites that are heavy in resources, packed with plugins while attempting old SEO tricks.

      Google has answered this in their Page Experience update with Core Web Vitals. They have prioritised 3 of Googles Web Vitals to determine the quality of a website. To pass Core Web Vitals, a website must be fast, fluid, with great UX. And as it’s the mobile version of our site that now gets indexed by Google. It’s critical that mobile passes Core Web Vitals.

      Core Web Vitals is only the beginning. The Page Experience update is the first of many major updates in the new era of Mobile-First Indexing.

      Optimized websites are all-round better, aside from ranking higher, users get the same great content and user experience across all devices. Each page loading lightning fast, saves on data and battery usage. Users feel the quality of great UX which encourages them to stay on your website for longer.

      So, here’s the bottom line…

      The further optimized our websites are, the more focused, faster and energy efficient they become. The user gets a better experience, the clients website becomes an asset with better ranking, the index becomes more relevant, faster, with better user experience again, and helps Google achieve their 100% carbon free pledge.

      The number of devastating events around the world as a direct result of climate change are increasing and with it our awareness. It’s real, it’s here and it’s going to get a whole lot worse.

      By working together, making changes where possible, we can create a buffer, slowing down the collision course we are on long enough for the sustainable revolution to get underway and change course.

      Just like the industrial revolution, the sustainable revolution has opportunities.

      Google have presented website owner with an amazing opportunity where everyone wins. By building high quality Mobile-First websites that pass Core Web Vitals, your ranks boost. Add relevant, rich quality content on top of that and you have a ranking machine.

      We are only at the beginning of the new era, and in many respects, a whole new Internet where page speed is crucial. The window to leap ahead of the competition or cement yourself at the top is closing.

      And of course, others will finally accept that they must meet a new standard to succeed. So, the advantage of foresight will fall away. With ten years of preparation and announcements and now a year into the new era, change is already underway.

      But, right now, you can grow your business and soften the carbon footprint. Users are happier, Google are happier, you’re happier, and more vitally our planet is happier. The chance to make money while making a positive change won’t be about for long.

      Apart from understanding what needs to be done in order to rank well and create more of an asset out of your website is the ability to do it. Now, we have the perfect tool. We have WPOptimal.
      Although it’s a framework it should be thought more of, as whole system. You have the framework, you have the theme, you have the custom CSS, custom HTML modules, you have in-built SEO settings, Schema settings, a template builder with the Click & Go system. You can build in WordPress and pull in from template or you can build the whole website directly on the template builder.

      We have versatility and a lowered need for extra plugins. You’ve got a great opportunity to build Low Carbon, ultra-fast, super performing Mobile-First websites that are Core Web Vitals compliant.

      Now of course you may have to put in a bit of work, building out nice and neatly, considering design for your users, but 90% of the hard work is done for you.

      So, when you are working on your next super-fast, ultra-performing website keep in mind, the faster, more optimized you can get it, the lower carbon it produces.

      It’s a ‘win-win’.

      Let’s help our clients, let’s help Google, let’s help the planet.

    • #7324

      Is low carbon web design a part of WPO 2.0?

      • #7325

        WPO 2.0 is programmed in such a way that the performance enhancements allow much lower carbon emmision than the average website. For example, the average site currently emits 1.76g/ppv (down from 4.0g/ppv a couple of years ago), whereas the WPO 2.0 demo site (https://demo.wpoptimal.com/v2/), which as you can see has a lot going on, weighs in at just 0.26g/ppv (a saving of over 85%). This was achieved without any further enhancement from me – i.e. this was the result based solely on the software itself and not something I manually added/tweaked.

    • #7762

      Google Doubles Carbon Footprint Overnight

      I was sent an interesting article from The New Yorker:

      Thinking of you ChrisM,

      • #7765

        Excellent article! Just goes to show how deep this issue goes. I recommend that everyone have a read through this.

      • #7770

        Thank you for sharing Dave.

        That was a really good article, which left me edified.

        It’s crazy how deep ‘Green-Washing’ goes. The majority of the richest (non-fossil-fuel) companies are really putting a lot of time, money and effort into reaching a net zero status. For example Netflix have really been ‘putting in a shift’ when it comes to lowering carbon dioxide with their ‘Reduce – Retain – Remove’ Sustainability plan which is really quite remarkable, if you want to check it out:

        We all know how heavy one video (even low quality) can be on our websites, yet as pointed out in the NYT article, “According to the report, in 2021, the annual emissions from Netflix’s cash would have been ten times larger than what was produced by everyone in the world streaming their programming—which is to say, Netflix and heat.”

        Banks funding big oil and the likes is nothing new, in fact much of the invested money has been spent on campaigns to downplay the severity of climate change and by extension global warming.

        The Rainforest Action Network data shows that HSBC (one of the largest banks in the world) has provided more than $87bn in total to some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies since the 2016 Paris accord.

        You combine that with just about every other bank and the majority of investment companies it all adds up to trillions every year. Even ESG investments have been caught falling short.

        Instead of humanity quite literally choking on its own money due to the greed of a few, imagine if that money went towards fixing the issues.

        We have the tech, we have the knowledge and we have the gumption all that’s needed is the funding/investment.

        It can feel very disheartening to the individual trying to make a difference in their own lives and businesses, and understandably think ‘well, what’s the point? With that said all small actions done consistently, accumulate. The world is doing a lot better than even ten years ago and it really does inspire hope.

        We are in the 12th round and it’s now the battle of the giants. From an optimistic standpoint big tech holds more weight and a longer reach than big oil now. So the big question is, will big tech stand up to scratch and force the banks to bet on one or the other?

        Now that renewables are efficient, reliable, affordable and can make A LOT of money, if big oil pivot their expertise and investment exclusively to expanding renewables (instead of the status quo), they will still hold the power they do now, if not more.

        I think it won’t be too long before at least one big tech shakes up the shareholders of big oil. For example, Google have opened a new position to their sustainability team in a few states – Marketing Manager, Sustainability and Crisis Response, to help them meet their carbon free pledge.

        Google have also been partnering with various groups such as the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity initiative (known as VCMI) to highlight scope 1, 2 and 3 of a business. This is great because many businesses and governments inspire us with promises in the form of pledges, which in realty are just words until there is action (we are still waiting!).

        VCMI are aiming to incentivize going above and beyond what businesses should already be doing. Rather than writing another novel here I will give a link if you are interested:

        AND… More than 50 companies have joined the First Movers Coalition:

        So, although I feel frustrated by the floundering created by greed, I remain hopeful and optimistic because one, if you want to make something happen make it profitable, it is. Two, heavy weight companies know this and have the legacy of their own emissions to answer for. I think this will get them to demand more integrity from the banks. Which in turn will force big oil to properly get on board or leave the party.

        Well, that went on a little further than intended, haha.

        Thanks again Dave for sharing that great article.

        In regard to making websites. We do not have to make the lowest carbon website possible. Do what you can, every little bit makes a difference. Just by using WPOptimal you are already doing better than most website on the CO2 per page view.

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