Government Websites Need a Green Standard

As the nation’s largest energy consumer, land owner and employer, the U.S. government has a golden opportunity to help our nation go green. 

The Biden administration doubled down on that recently with a sweeping executive order that outlined how the government intends to become a net-zero emissions contributor by 2050.

Much of the executive order talks about greener fleets and facilities – things that you would expect. Yet we need solutions to take on government technology too.

The government has a lot of webpages. Google estimates that there are almost 7 billion .gov webpages. All those webpages translate to significant energy use. Consider this: The average website produces 1.76 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) for every page view, according to the Website Carbon Calculator. 

That may not sound like a lot, but it quickly adds up. If that website gets 100,000 page views per month, it emits 2,112 kilograms of CO2 every year. That’s the same as a gasoline-powered car driving 524 miles. Or charging 25,667 smartphones, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas calculator. Now multiply that at scale and you get a sense of how impactful websites can be on our environment. 

Given this, I believe government websites need a green standard. It’s not a farfetched idea. After all, the building industry has benefited from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a green building certification program. I see a strong potential for something similar in the digital space. 

Until then, there are actions we can all take now. So, in celebration of Earth Day, here are three simple things you can do make your government website green: 

Reduce your image size 

Images are a major contributor to page weight. The more you use and the larger they are, the more data needs to be transferred, which means more energy is required. 

When possible, use optimized SVG graphics instead of formats like PNG and GIF. This can significantly reduce image sizes. Modern image formats like AVIF and WebP are also much smaller than comparable JPEG files. 

Your website may not be configured to accept modern formats, but there are plenty of free tools like TinyPNG that are free to use. By reducing the image size and using this tool, our header image is 332 kilobytes smaller than it would have been.

Minimize your code

Developers can see that CSS and JavaScript frameworks are minimized to avoid sending unnecessary code to the user. Effective page cach’ing can ensure that only new content is loaded from the server when browsing a site.

Only sending the code that your users need also improves user experience by improving page load times. 

And if you think sustainably designed websites will be lackluster, think again. Thoughtful design actually improves performance, battery life and usability. You’ll end up with a website that is faster, more accessible and better for the environment. Talk about a win-win. 

Switch to a green web host

Choose a hosting company that uses renewable energy to power its operations. Most major web hosts offer hosting options that are powered by renewable energy. There are even web hosts like GreenGeeks which claim to use renewable energy certificates to contribute three times more power into the grid than they consume.

Engaging with your suppliers is key to let them know that consumers care about environmental responsibility. 

Every bit counts

Building a low impact, renewably powered website isn’t going to solve our problems with climate change. That said, it is an easy step that responsible organizations should be taking to demonstrate that they are finding ways to build green. 

Low carbon websites are a win-win-win solution for everyone. Users have a better customer experience with faster load times, organizations are able to reduce their net carbon emissions, and everyone knows that a little less CO2 is going into our atmosphere.

Mike Gifford is Senior Strategist at CivicActions and a Drupal Core Accessibility Maintainer. Previously, he was CEO of OpenConcept Consulting Inc. and Co-founder of CivicTech Ottawa.

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