There are many highlights of going to a conference like brightonSEO.
Aside from the personal element of spending time with a great bunch of colleagues, there’s also the professional side, where it’s great to encounter new topics that stretch your thinking and spark ideas on new and exciting ways of working.
But I also found myself in the privileged position of hearing some of the ideas being presented as new and exciting, and realising that working at Yard, we’re already leading the way on many of these topics.
One such instance came when I attended a session titled “How your website impacts the planet - and what you can do about it!” delivered by Stuart Davies, the Head of Agency at Creative Bloom, who are based down in Brighton and focus their work largely on non-profits and green businesses.
As the session name suggests, Stuart was there to take us through the topic of the impact that the world of digital marketing, and the internet as a whole, has on the environment. He described how he’d always “had this itch about the collective impact of all this stuff we’re making and putting out online.”
Waking up to the impact of digital
Of course, there are many positive impacts to the way digital has impacted the world, but one area where the impact is a lot less positive – and where those of us working in digital carry a fair level of responsibility – is the carbon footprint of digital.
Stuart led us into the topic by sharing some stats he’d found while looking into the topic:
The internet is responsible for around 4% of global greenhouse gases annually
If the internet was a country, it’d be the 7th largest polluter in terms of carbon emissions
By 2040, with the current rate of expansion, it’s expected to be the 2nd largest polluter
For many, the stats being shared were clearly new, and quite shocking, judging by the number of sharp intakes of breath and nervous bouts of laughter heard around the room.
Stuart, a charismatic guy who clearly cares about these issues, punctuated the painful home truths with moments of humour, but he didn’t let up on his audience, going on to say soon after that “we are the bad guys here, we are the evil empire.”
I’m in the fortunate position of working for an agency where digital sustainability is a key interest and value, so I’d heard most of this before, but I also never want to become numb to the sheer scale of the damage that has been done, and will continue to be done, if we don’t take these issues seriously.
Unpacking the heart of the problem
Connecting the dots between what we do on our phones, tablets and laptops, and the amount of carbon being poured out into our atmosphere, can be a tricky sell even for some of those who work in digital, let alone those around the world who are relative digital novices.
After all, doesn’t all this happen up in the cloud? Even the name sounds environmentally friendly!
Well, no, as Stuart went on to explain to us, everything you access online is stored and/or hosted somewhere, most of the time in data centers, which are fast becoming comparable to power plants in terms of the amount of carbon they’re producing.
This is not an easy conversation to have and involves a lot of home truths about our own culpability, but the difficult conversations are often the most important ones, and I really valued Stuart bringing this challenge, and brightonSEO for encouraging it.
Often these sorts of conferences can be a little self-congratulatory; I mean, who wants to pay money to go somewhere and be told you’re part of the problem? But sometimes we need a (metaphorical) kick up the bum as well as a pat on the back, and on this issue, it’s definitely more of the former right now.
Where do we go from here?
As Stuart continued to unpack some of the main causes of these issues, he began to highlight specific areas that can cause the most damage, which in turn lets us know where we can improve:
Resource-heavy websites are a power drain
Images, collectively, are the biggest page weight contributor
Videos require intensive processing power
Long copy = long dwell time, as does poor UX
All these observations, while problems on the surface, also point towards solutions for those of us who have power to create change.
If resource-heavy websites are a power drain, let’s streamline those sites and pages.
If images add page weight, let’s be selective with the number and size of the images we use.
If videos require intensive processing, let’s make sure we only use video in a highly targeted way.
If poor UX and long copy cause unnecessary dwell, let’s fix that.
All of these issues – you can also throw in websites packed with unnecessary fonts, plugins and code – can be corrected, and help your business, as well as the planet, along the way.
In my most recent Yard Insights piece I mentioned that for too long many have treated their websites like an endless online storage locker where they can shove as much as they want with no consequence.
To revisit that analogy, and bring a more positive angle, why don’t we all commit to tidying up those storage lockers? Getting rid of unnecessary junk, rearranging what stays so that it’s easier to find things, maybe even downsizing to a smaller locker now you’ve seen how much waste you’ve got rid of.
Here’s where Yard comes in
As Stuart began to point us to tangible changes we could make, the first was to “measure our website’s impact” and he told everyone about a fantastic tool to help you do so. It’s called Beacon.
I immediately felt a smile of recognition spread across my face. “I know Beacon!”, I thought. It’s not just something we use, it’s something that one of our own built. Chris Butterworth, founder of Aline, part of Yard Group, is the mastermind behind Beacon!
I don’t think I’ve had many more satisfying moments in my professional life than being able to message my colleague Chris and let him know that the guy leading the session I was in had used Beacon, saw the impact of his agency’s website, and as a result was redesigning that website to produce less carbon, and had also paid for a grove of trees to be planted in the Scottish Highlands!
As Stuart went on to suggest a series of improvements that any website can make – switching to hosting that uses renewable energy, carrying out regular content culls, turning off autoplay from videos on your site – he left things in a hopeful place.
There are things we can improve, mainly because it’s the right thing to do, but even if it takes a little self-interest too, the faster load speeds that come with lighter pages and websites are a ranking factor – something we often talk to clients about – so there’s a decent chance you bring in more traffic and sales by doing the right thing.
In many ways – even at north of 1,000 words, sorry Chris! - I’ve only scratched the surface of these topics. But there are few more important conversations we can be having going forward, and this is certainly a conversation that Yard are happy to have with anyone and everyone who’s willing to engage with the topic and move towards a more ethical and sustainable digital future.
Please get in touch with us today if you want to know more.