As forward-thinking and progressive as web designers and Internet companies are, the industry in which they thrive is wasting more energy than it’s using. This comes as a major surprise to many, because people see these companies as existing in the virtual world. In reality, the Internet is very much a part of the real world, and the data stored there is housed on very real servers.

The very nature of the way we use the Web fuels the waste. In a world where instant information is a given, servers absolutely must be running at all times, whether they’re computing or not. This means that on average, at best only 12 percent of the power used by most servers is used to perform actual computations, and the rest is used for cooling systems, backup generators, and facility costs to house the servers themselves.

Dr. Alex Wissner-Gross is a Harvard University physicist and Environmental Fellow who tangibly put the issue into perspective when he said that “…when you’re 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…”

So what can web designers do to combat this phenomenon? Here are a few ways to go about it through conscious web design.

Participate in Green Web Initiatives

Green online initiatives like CO2 Neutral Website are on a global mission to cut back the world’s dependence on the excessive energy consumption by the Web. When you participate in this initiative, you’ll be contributing to its climate preservation projects, and you’ll also receive a certificate that dubs your website a climate-friendly site. It also provides you with tools to help optimize the energy used by your site.

Sure, this isn’t a stand-alone solution, but it’s a great way to jumpstart your personal goals of energy conservation, while sharing your efforts with site visitors.

Consider Low Wattage Color Pallette

There has been some argument within the web design community about whether a black color palette is truly more efficient than light colors, but there are many who tout the benefits of a darker website design. The idea is that darker colors require lower amounts of energy than lighter colors on computer monitors.

The search engine Blackle emerged in 2008 as a product of the theory that a black version of Google searches would conserve a substantial amount of energy. It’s powered by Google customer search itself. If a black color scheme isn’t in the cards for you, try using the low wattage color palette, developed by green consultant Mark Ontkush, who started the black and white Google discussion in 2007.

Utilize Standby Mode Intra-Surfing Plugins

Internet users tend to jump between tabs and keep several sites open at once, which can use a substantial amount of power that’s not actually used. Some web developers have worked on automating a website feature that would allow it to be put into a low-power standby mode while a user is viewing other pages. This would reduce the electricity burden on the server’s host. Sites like are a great resource for finding competitive rates.

Use Renewable Web Hosting Companies

Look into 100 percent renewable energy-powered web hosting options to store and deliver your websites. Going this route would dramatically reduce the burden your clients’ sites place on the environment by completely eliminating the carbon emissions that would be produced by traditionally powered hosts.

Renewable web hosting is pretty common in the United States. Take a look at the options that are out there and pick one that’s right for the site and the client you’re working with.

Don’t Litter

Believe it or not, online littering is just as harmful to the environment as real-world littering is. Web designers and developers can do their part to reduce the amount of litter that’s out there on the web by keeping tabs on the files they create while designing a site. Consider this: How many redundant or orphaned files do you leave sitting on a server once the project is completed?

Those pointless files are taking up a very tiny amount of space each, but they accumulate to create a huge burden on servers, which in turn amps up the energy usage of the entire operation. Practice clean designing by purging all the unnecessary files you’ve placed online, and optimizing the files you place on there in the future.

As you can see, there are many ways to reduce the harm the activities of the internet does to the environment. Through conscious design principles to smart web habits, together we can change the way the internet affects the environment.

Image Via Flickr by Carligirliam


He's an avid gadget geek and spends most of his time reading or writing.

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  • Interesting ideas, but do you really think “online littering is just as harmful to the environment as real-world littering is”? I also wonder just how much energy would be saved if everyone switched to Blackle…

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