April 1, 2024
Low-carbon websites

To understand the environmental impact of a website, it is best to compare it with a paper magazine. The magazine has an editor and this editor tries to sell as many copies as possible every month. They do this through a kiosk on the street. I know… it’s a bit of an old-fashioned concept, but stay with me.

We compare this kiosk with a server and the editor with the website owner. When we talk about the environmental impact of a website, we currently only look at the weight of the web page, which can be compared to the number of pages of a paper magazine. Although that is of course ALSO very important (a magazine 10 times as thick, takes up 10 times more space in the kiosk), it is not the whole story.

Whether a website is pre-rendered or not, makes a big difference. A pre-rendered website the magazine is printed on behalf of the editor and there is a stack in the kiosk ready to be sold. If it is not pre-rendered, the magazine will be printed for you at the time of purchase. Of course, you immediately understand why one is much faster than the other, but I think you also understand that you can read much more up-to-date information in one magazine than in the other. A website with current stock prices cannot be a pre-rendered website. On the other hand, a website with editorial articles, such as this website, is no problem. But… you already feel it coming… if you print the magazines in advance, you can easily sell 10 times more magazines per kiosk. And since a kiosk is the equivalent of a server, this means that you need at least 10 times less servers/server resources when you have a pre-rendered website.

In addition, there is something called a ‘Content Delivery Network’, abbreviated to CDN. This is nothing more than distributing the magazines across different kiosks. The idea is that you don’t have to travel as far to buy your magazine. Here the comparison is a bit skewed, because it is not the case that you divide the original stack of magazines over all kiosks… but you need the same stack of magazines in each kiosk. If you divide your website over 10 servers, you will need 10 times as much server space. However, it will become less busy at all these kiosks. Effectively you will need about 5 times as many ‘resources’ (assuming that server space is eqaually scarce as computing power). An additional advantage of a CDN is that CDNs often do not allow you to print ‘on demand’. This means that publishers are forced to print at least entire sections of the magazine in advance, which greatly improves efficiency.

In conclusion, many of the current calculations about environmental impact are incomplete. Whether or not the website is pre-rendered is not taken into account and the use of a CDN is also overlooked… and there may be even more factors.

Usecue (my company) does not use a CDN and almost all of our websites are completely pre-rendered. In addition, we almost exclusively create websites with super light pages. This means that our websites (most likely) have even less environmental impact than you can calculate using current tools.

A nice feeling, right?

()  Joost van der Schee

next blog post next post previous blog post previous post Scroll to top