What the new Website Sustainability Guidelines mean for us all

What the new Website Sustainability Guidelines mean for us all
Written by Sam Castledine, Studio Assistant
Posted on Friday, 6 October, 2023

New guidelines have been published to help companies like us to develop more sustainable websites.

The W3C, those legends who brought you the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), have now formed another set of seminal guidance. Drum roll please…Introducing the (draft) Web Sustainability Guidelines

Given that we’re big fans of sustainability and work with brands that put the planet first, you can imagine the double-take when we saw the recent announcement of their draft publication.

Why does this matter so much to us? Because the digital industry generates more emissions globally than the aviation industry. Yep - read that again. In fact, if the Internet were a country it would be one of the top five polluters. 🤯

What are the Web Sustainability Guidelines (WSG)?

The guidelines represent nearly two years of work from contributors across the globe detailing how to take a sustainable approach to:

  1. User experience (UX) design
  2. Web development
  3. Hosting, infrastructure and systems
  4. Business strategy and product management

Ultimately, these guidelines are all about exploring how we should - and can - make websites or digital experiences that are better for people and the planet. Win-win. 

How we plan to learn from the WSG and what it means for you

Given that the WSG contains 93 guidelines with 232 success criteria and is packed full of juicy examples, references and more, it’s safe to say it’s going to take some time for us to digest what this means for us at Knapton Wright, and for the clients with whom we work. 

In time, we’ll write more about what the guidelines mean to us, and to you. However, if you asked me today for three things that we should be taking into consideration after initially skim-reading the guidance it would be the following:

1. “We need a new website!”

One of the parts of the WSG that really caught my eye - 5.14 - was the need to “establish whether a digital product or service is necessary” in the first place. It was surprising to see this so far through the guidance, as you could argue this should really be the starting point of any digital product/service development.

If we’re to create a more sustainable world, we need to be questioning whether we need to keep building new websites to replace old ones. 

There’s nothing new about continuous or agile website development. So often there are things that can be done to improve what already exists, rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As the guidance suggests:

“…this redundancy wastes digital and physical resources.”

And, why would we want to do that, if there’s a more sustainable approach? Expect us to look more closely at your existing website first if you come and ask us to build you a new one.

2. Hosting can make a big difference to sustainability, and make your site faster too

We’re currently reviewing all our hosting arrangements, partly because we’ve taken on over a hundred extra websites and domains since Bazzoo’s clients came on board, but also because we’re mindful of how much of a difference effective and sustainable hosting can make. 

As it happens, all of our hosting is green hosting. By that, I mean the two web hosting companies that we host our client websites on are powered by 100% renewable energy. These companies also plant trees for every hosting account and domain they hold and are subscribed to initiatives like Ecologi and 1% for the Planet. One of them has even become a certified B Corporation. So far, so good.

This is only part of the story though. As the WSG recommends, we should also be looking to reduce our data transfer and storage by building sites and experiences that are performant and optimised for this. We’re constantly reviewing the way we build new sites and the ones we maintain to see how we can make them faster and more efficient

There’s a commercial benefit too: many studies suggest faster websites can lead to fortune. Not too shabby, eh?

3. Taking a Lego-based approach to design and development

Again, this isn’t anything groundbreaking but we’re taking steps to create a highly optimised starting point for our websites, making reusable components and following recognised design patterns to improve both the user experience and the build process. 

Think of it as a library of Lego; we have a clean base plate onto which pre-built blocks can be placed, which can be painted in whatever colour you like and configured in a way that’s unique to you and your business, yet still easy for people to use.

This approach helps create a better-structured site, where visitors aren’t manipulated with so-called “dark patterns”

It also means less carbon is emitted because the code is more efficient, assets like videos and images are compressed and sites load quicker. Result!

What’s next for us with the WSG?

It bears repeating that the current version of the Web Sustainability Guidelines is still in its first draft so will be subject to further changes. However, it already provides companies like us with some industry-leading practices to learn from and implement, along with WCAG 2.2, to make better websites for everyone.

There’s much more in-depth reading for us to do and to share, and it would be ambitious to change our approach overnight but like most efforts to be more sustainable (or ideally, regenerative) it’s about taking it one step at a time. Marginal gains, and all that.

Finally, a HT to Gerry McGovern - hopefully, one day A Friend Of The Show, as our Alex would say - who shared the news about the WSG announcement on LinkedIn which sparked this entire blog post in the first place.

This could be you

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