Designing responsible websites is fun

In the record of daily eco-gestures that everyone can implement to do their part of the hummingbird, empty their mailbox and limit the number of videos viewed online are operations that are now well known. At the other end of the chain, website designers and Internet services can also lighten the climate bill by changing some of their operating methods.

And for good reason, digital technology is responsible for 3.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, as the Ecological Transition Agency (Ademe) reminded us again in January 2022 on the occasion of the launch of its responsible digital awareness campaign.

And things will go wrong: a doubling of this carbon footprint is expected by 2025, according to the agency, due to the “significant increase in usage”. The number of connected devices but also the services to which they give access are responsible for 10% of French electricity consumption, according to Ademe and the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications, Posts and Press Distribution (Arcep). Or 2.5% of the country’s carbon footprint.

By comparison, the waste sector represents 2 %. “Half of the current footprint is due to data centers and the network. The rest depends on peripherals, such as computers.”, explains Pierre Pluviaud, CEO of Datacampus, a French data center company. Reducing the digital weight of websites allows us to act on the energy consumption of storage spaces and the devices used to connect to them.

No legal restrictions

Various regulatory limitations apply to digital to make it more responsible, with the aim of protecting the data of its users or the possible access to websites by all audiences. The General Repository for Improving Accessibility (RGAA), for example, aims to facilitate the navigation of people with disabilities through digital public services and certain private services. Vincent Courboulay, scientific director of the Responsible Digital Institute (INR) and professor-researcher at the University of La Rochelle, specifies that a methodological framework is being developed for the ecodesign of sites within the French Standardization Agency (Afnor) .

The 2021 law introduces a general reference system for the ecodesign of digital services and a training obligation in this field for future engineers, which is not accompanied, however, by a sanction.

The legislature has recently raised the environmental issue of the issue, with the approval in November 2021 of a law on reducing the digital footprint in France. He is the first of his kind in Europe, even in the world, according to Senator LR Patrick Chaize, one of the parliamentarians behind him. The topics covered in this text are varied and go far beyond web design. However, it introduces a general reference system for the ecodesign of digital services and an obligation to train in this field for future engineers, which is not accompanied, however, by sanctions.

The parliamentarian stressed that in the absence of consensus on all points, “the intention” instead of obligation he has often been privileged in law. For this, it is based on normative texts. In fact, it’s for him “keep the focus” going there “little by little”.

“This law has the advantage of putting the issue on the table,” Judge Vincent Courboulay stressing the interest of the training obligation. Among the levers that could still be activated according to him, a standardization of browsers and an energy label for websites, dedicated to the general public.

In 2019, the INR launched a responsible digital letter at the request of the Ministry of Ecological Transition. It has since been signed by more than 250 public bodies, communities and businesses. What, says the scientific director of the INR, “Plan the topic internally” signatory companies.

For the time being only declarative, adherence to the values ​​of the letter will soon be subject to a rating of the signatories’ commitments. At the moment, they mainly refer to training actions, purchasing policies and extending the useful life of the devices. But Vincent Courboulay points out that companies of all sizes get in touch with responsible site developers, without quantifying them.

find compromises

Bug agency is one of the companies that develop these responsible sites. Starting with his, he wants to be extreme in the matter: it is made on a black background, without any video and with few hypertext links. It emits 30% less greenhouse gas emissions than a more common place, says Paul Guibert, associate director of the Bug agency. Among its customers, “Convinced from the beginning with an ecological business model” i “large companies are aware that the issue should be addressed without necessarily knowing how to take it”.

He notes a very recent shift in his approach, which can be explained by future regulatory changes. “Not all places are like ours!” specifies. Often the responsible design is not seen: the activated levers will be chosen according to the needs and requirements of the sponsor. For example, a customer may want to keep a video on the home page to show their business, while reducing the number of pages on their site to optimize it. In fact, it is often a matter of looking for the “best commitment” between efficient design and the economic utility of the site in question, believes Benjamin Dutil, secretary and deputy scientific director of the INR.

The latter regularly trains large companies on the subject: “Everyone is aware that responsible digital technology is needed, but they are in the dark about how to do it.” In particular, they are served by multiple hierarchical strata that give everyone the impression of lacking leeway to act. But responsible digital is one “cross-focus” even if only to prevent the transfer of pollution between services, he says.

Native fonts and server cooling

The range of tools that can be used is related, among other things, to the choice of colors that consume less energy, and therefore emit less light. Native fonts, that is, installed by default on Internet browsers (Arial, Times New Roman, etc.) are preferred, so you don’t have to download them when displaying the site. The same goes for “click here” icons: using glyphs, equivalent to special characters in a word processor, avoids downloads and limits the number of requests, which are so many round trips between the device showing the site and the server hosting it. .

A reflection on the user experience reduces the number of links and therefore clicks, or even removes pages that would be useless.

In general, a reflection on the user experience can reduce the number of links, and therefore clicks, or even remove pages that would be useless. In fact, sums up Paul Guibert, “All ecodesign practices are based on good development practices”. As for the impact of these techniques, there are several schools to measure them. They can estimate the bandwidth weight of sites and services, that is, the number of requests and items in transit. Or rely on consumption at the end of the device chain to consult them.

There is another important point to reduce the impact of a site: the server where it is hosted. Better not to overestimate the storage space needed. Some data center operators are also working to reduce the impact. “The easiest thing is to cool the servers, which represents 30 % to 40% of its consumption ”, explains Pierre Pluviaud. Datacampus is presented as the only company in the sector that has adopted the status of a company with a mission. He mentions the existence of various alternative techniques to server air conditioning. For example, immersion in a coolant bath.

From a sustainable development perspective, however, the environmental aspect does not seem to be the only thing to consider. To this are added the social aspects, cybersecurity and even the information that these services carry. “Within the INR, we even get to the issue of prosperity, that is, the creation of values ​​and jobs”says Vincent Courboulay.

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