sustainable web design 101 – tools to help your business and planet

published 15 November 2018

“Going Green” seems to be an overused term these days that unfortunately reduces the important, relevant issue of sustainability into a laughable, discounted topic amongst some business people. However, we at Bench want to flip the green conversation to expose those sustainable practices for designers & teams to show they can impact their planet and businesses alike. When we all do good work, everyone wins.

global players
Companies like Google, facebook and many other global companies have already set a high benchmark for optimising business and products to save energy and use renewable sources in wind, solar & geothermal energies. Google is already taking major initiatives in this area, setting big goals and reaching 100% renewable energy in 2017. You can read all about their plans and reports at Environment.Google plus they provide some resources on big picture actions you can take and apply to your business. This shift in big business indicates they take their energy consumption seriously, but you don’t have to be an international powerhouse to make changes that have impact.


so why should we care?
Google Environment explains how “data centers are the backbone of the internet, processing and storing huge amounts of information. Our engineers have spent years perfecting Google’s data centers, making them 50 percent more energy efficient than the industry average. But we still need a lot of energy to process trillions of Google searches every year, play more than 400 hours of YouTube videos uploaded every minute, and power the products and services that our users depend on. That’s why we began purchasing renewable energy — to reduce our carbon footprint and address climate change. But it also makes business sense.”

As digital design becomes an increasing standard for any product or client project, designers & design companies have a huge opportunity to really spread the word on sustainable practices that benefit them and the earth moving forward.

So what smaller companies are already putting this new green business model into action?

local players
Tim Frick, CEO of Chicago-based digital agency Mightybytes and author of “Designing for Sustainability” is a big local player championing green business practices in design. He and his team are actively promoting sustainable design across multiples mediums in new and impactful ways; Mightybytes “also started helping our community and our clients make more sustainable decisions about where they host and how they design websites and other digital products” winning various awards for their contributions.

Similarly, design studio Manoverboard Inc took informative design to a new level & created an influential green Awwwards project site to educate designers and public on the impact on the environment the internet is making. Check out their amazing website Serving.Green !

With more and more smaller studios taking action to inform and implement a greener process it will only strengthen the voice of responsible design. A client may laugh at going green but educating them about how it can save on their energy bill, carbon footprint and printing invoices is something they won’t want to miss out on. The longer they wait, the further behind the competition they will be. Supporting the environment now means supporting you/your clients’ future business.

did you know?
Did you know the Internet, big data, & the cloud is said to pollute at enormous rate “using about 50% more energy than global aviation” according to scholar Mark P Mills.  The world of design relies heavily on computers, servers & the internet to function, but have you thought about where that power comes from? Have you though about the cost to the environment that a website creates? Mark P Mills has written a comprehensive paper highlighting the gravity of the amount of electricity eaten by the global digital ecosystem of today called “The Cloud Starts with Coal”.

Did you know “the average Google page speed insights score 30.6/100. Customers will abandon a site that doesn’t load quickly. Plus, Google has added page speed as an indicator for search results” according to Ecograder.

So as the design industry relies more heavily on tech, servers, streaming and computers the biggest game changer we can focus on is how to reduce energy consumption, start using cleaner energy & optimising digital design to support this shift to a more sustainable & profitable model.

so how do we start
As this type of energy consumption will only look to increase as time goes on, we’ve put a list together of tools & practices that are easy & impactful to give you and your clients a leg up on the competition! At Bench we are constantly looking to make these seemingly minor adjustment in everyday workflows in the name of good design across the world, knowing small acts can go a long way to help others & the environment.

1. switch to green web hosting
This has got to be the first step.Start using a service that only uses renewable, clean energy for hosting! Your website & cloud are sucking energy anytime someone interacts with them. Many servers across the globe are draining energy from wasteful sources. Do you know where your power is coming from & how efficient it is? Here are a few major eco-hosts to check out & a reputable Aussie host to boot Digital Pacific.


2. cut down on the fancy extras
Use image compression tools – you don’t need a photo that big to get quality and reduce load time. Why is this important? It majorly influences your ranking on google search & sucks unnecessary energy, so why wouldn’t you?  Here are some to use: Tiny PngPng Compressor app & Compress app !


3. check your site optimisation
If you or your client already have a website, you can use a tool like Ecograder that will help identify areas you can improve to optimise load time, user experience and tap into more eco-friendly energy providers. They analyse things like page speed, findability, design & user experience & green hosting. It’s a win win.


4. use web safe fonts
A set of common fonts installed on both Mac & Windows computers. Using these really help to reduce site load time for any user which in turn can help your Google rank & user experience. Visually appealing safe fonts we like are called Verdana, Arial, Trebuchet MS, Tahoma & PalatinoFontStack lists a more comprehensive list of safe fonts that breaks down exact percentages in a Mac to Windows comparisons.


5. use battery saving tools
Yes, who doesn’t want to save phone battery or computer power! Do you use Google? Well then set Blackle as your  default search page ASAP. This is google’s search engine but converts the pages to energy efficient colours !  Do you or your clients have a WordPress site? Check out this awesome plugin called OnlineLeaf that helps your viewers save power!  AND if you have an iphoneX you should definitely turn on smart colour invert mode that shifts your phone to a grayscale, battery saving beast – up to %66 ! What!


6. optimise your web css for print
YES, developers have some amazing skills you can tap into here! Even though most content is digital these days, people still love to print out articles and information from website & here’s where you can make an impact with some easy to implement ideas. Have a style sheet, remove html tables if possible & know where there is no print value on the page!  David Walsh goes into a bit more CSS detail here to make your pages more print friendly and reduce ink waste.


7. use fonts that reduce ink consumption
Reducing ink = reducing your print bills, which everyone can get on board with!  So how can you do this? You can install a great tool called Ecofont that converts a range of fonts INTO ink saving versions! So cool.

You can also consider fonts such as Ryman Eco,  Courier, Calibri & Century Gothic that are made to succeed in the print space & can use up to 33% less ink when printing ! That can mean big savings, so consider having your team first explore these print optimised fonts before moving on.


The above list is a great place to get started on your journey to creating a lasting impact on your work and the environment. As designers, we can use our position with clients to make a huge difference in the way they view sustainability. Taking the first steps to initiate the conversation can help those around you become more conscious of the places in the design process where they can positively impact their business and the planet one tool at a time.