Green Websites: Solutions for a CO2 Free Internet

Green Web Server

Green websites is the way to go for a carbon free Internet. By going green, content providers will contribute to fight climate change. The impact will be significant since the Internet energy consumption is ever growing.

The communications industry could use 20% of all the world’s electricity by 2025, hampering global attempts to meet climate change targets and straining grids as demand by power-hungry server farms storing digital data from billions of smartphones, tablets and internet-connected devices grows exponentially.
— Source: Climate Home News

What is a Green Website?

An ideal green website has 0 carbon emission. Fossil energy is never used. Instead, all electricity for data processing, communications and cooling should come from green renewable energies.

Beside relying on renewable energies, a green website is energy efficient. There are plenty of ways of saving energy. Of course low consumption hardware do help. But, software also plays an important role here. Relying on software with reduced computations allows for a double positive effect. On the one hand the server consumes less energy for performing its tasks. On the other hand, less computations means less heat. So, we can save electricity on the cooling system.

Another aspect is communications. Transferring data from servers to clients and back, consumes energy. There are multiple networking equipment in between for routing data, and avoiding its corruption. A reduction in traffic means less processing for these devices.

How to Make a Green Website?

Website owners and admin can also directly contribute to make the Internet green. There are different ways to reduce CO2 emissions of a site. A simple, yet very effective action is to choose a green hosting. Green hosting providers operate eco-friendly data-centers. Such data centers are energy efficient. They also have a low carbon footprint.

Green hosting providers draw all 100% electricity they need from renewable sources, such as solar farms, wind turbines, and hydroelectric power installations. Other providers can be considered green if they compensate for their carbon emissions. They can do so by supporting non-profits that fight deforestation and plant trees.

Moving your website to a green hosting provider has a double effect. The direct and obvious one is that your website becomes green. The second effect is the more people do the switch, the more hosting services are pushed to reduce their CO2 emissions.

How to Make a Green WordPress Website?

WordPress is the world’s most popular way to build websites. In 2018, WordPress powers 31.0% of all the websites on the Internet. Its continuous growth is spectacular, knowing that, in 2011, it was used only in 13.1% sites. This is even more impressive knowing that the number of websites has also significantly grown during the same period of time.

One of the strengths of WordPress is it ease of adding new materials that are displayed in different pages. To achieve this, web pages are generated upon each connection. However, content additions and updates occur less often than page views. This result into electricity waste.

What if pages were reconstructed only once upon content change? This technique is known as caching. Since WordPress can be extended using plugins, caching is easy to implement. In fact, there exist several free caching plugins for WordPress. You can easily add the one you prefer via WordPress’s admin account.

Lightweight Themes for Eco-Friendly Green WordPress Sites

WordPress is highly pluggable. This includes the look and feel that is defined by a theme. The theme defines the overall design or style of your site. This includes cosmetic things such as colors and fonts. But, a WordPress theme also defines the structure of the pages, including widgets, images, their sizes, and social media sharing buttons.

Since the theme defines the content of your website pages, it impacts the CO2 footprint of your WordPress install. Cached pages can gather more or less elements that need to be transmitted to remote web browsers, over the internet. Remember data transmission also consumes energy.

When choosing your WordPress theme, you need to consider the impact on the transmission, beside the aesthetics. There is an extra benefit. With a green theme, you end up with lightweight pages that take less time to transmit. Pages are faster to load for your website visitors. This speed up is important to mobile users who are often connected to the Internet via their phone service. Such connections often have a low-bandwidth as with 3G, or worse. Since the number of mobile users is increasing, Google algorithm takes into account page speed for ranking. A faster page is more likely to show-up first on a search result.

Make Your Own DIY Green Website

A bold approach is to make your own green website from the ground up. Folks at Low-Tech Magazine address this challenge with an original approach. Indeed, this magazine revives old ideas, involving low-tech solutions to address today’s challenges.

The Low-Tech Magazine website is a mix of old and new technologies. It relies on an old fashioned static HTML pages, along with image compressing through dithering. This minimizes energy consumption, at the expense of dynamicity. However, comments are still possible though through email.

Regarding the hardware, the server runs on an Olimex A20 single board computer. This open source hardware runs on Linux. It embeds an Arm dual core CORTEX-A7 processor clocked at 2 Ghz, with 1GB RAM, 16 GB of storage and Gigabit Ethernet. Last power consumption is rather low: the board draws between 1 and 2.5 watts. Pretty similar to Raspberry Pi boards.

The goal of this project is to explore how go 100% off-grid. So far, the objective is achieved for the computer. It runs solely on a renewable energy source: photovoltaic solar panels. A battery keeps the server on-line up to two days of bad weather. The next step is to find a similar solution for the router.

Credits: Photo by Bruno Cordioli

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