The other day, I was skimming through my latest copy of Practical Web Design and a letter to the editor caught my eye.  The writer had been checking out some Flash based websites while watching the processor on his computer and he noticed that some of them were causing his processor to run at 100%!

His concern?  The extra amount of power these Flash based sites were consuming… by his calculations, if some of these sites were being viewed on 10,000 computers, the power consumption would be an amazing extra megawatt of power!  The number surprised me and got me thinking…everything is about being green these days so… how do you make the web a greener place to be?

Well… I’ve decided to put on my intrepid girl reporter hat and check it out!

First of all, there’s not a lot of info on this out there but… here’s what I uncovered. (this is all highly unscientific and based purely on my own observations and what information I was able to find via google)

black is the new green

Lesson #1: dark colours consume less energy than light colours.

That’s right, websites that use predominantly dark colours will require less energy to run than light and airy sites. Apparently monitors use up more energy when they display light rather than dark. If you want to learn more about such website snippets, click here.

I decided to try it out on my Mac – first with a client’s site that is predominantly dark colours and then with my wordpress admin panel, which is primarily white.  There was a small difference in the system activity – about a percentage point that fluctuated with both sites.  Still.. multiply that percentage by thousands of computers and sure enough, the little bits will add up.

Interestingly enough, most sites promoting green or eco-friendly lifestyles/products are often very airy in design with lots of white and light colours.

flash in the pan?

Lesson #2: Flash based websites suck back the power.

This was not something I’d ever really thought about but I tested the site that the letter writer mentioned and watched the system processes climb!  On my laptop (PC) it climbed from 1% to 65% and on my Mac it was hovering the high 40s.  (I made sure I wasn’t running any other major programs at the same time). I checked out a few of my other favourite flash based sites and saw similar things happen.

So, Flash… looks pretty cool, awesome for those portfolio and fashion/clothing websites… not so great for your power consumption.

the host with the most

Lesson #3: dig a little deeper when investigating your hosting options

There are loads of “green” webhosting companies and companies who offer green hosting packages out there.  They are not all created equal.  You need to ask some questions and decide what you are comfortable with.

What kind of power do they use to run their server banks?  Is it wind, solar or hydro electric power, all of which are renewable?  Or is it coal burning (non-renewable) and they instead purchase carbon credits to ensure they are a carbon neutral facility?

Do they run virtual servers? Virtualization allows for multiple servers to be run on one machine, as opposed to each server being run on its own “box”.  This will also help cut down on power consumption.

How do they run their day to day operations?  What other methods to they use to decrease their carbon footprint?

carbon credits

There are a lot of companies today that purchase, or allow you to purchase, carbon credits to offset the carbon footprint that whatever service they are offering produces.  Airlines are one that immediately springs to my mind.  But after nosing around, I found that a lot of the web hosting companies I looked at did too.

Carbon credits are something I’ve always been a little bit wary about – and I will admit right now that this is probably due to the fact that I know very little about how the program runs.  It requires a lot of trust in the company that you are doing business with, something I’m often reluctant to give right off the bat, that they are in fact doing as they say and purchasing the credits.  I also don’t know much about what is involved with the purchase of carbon credits, how they are managed, what is actually done as far as planting trees or other activities that will help offset the CO2 being produced.

The other thing that I’m wary of with carbon credits is, I’m not entirely sure that they do anything to convince us to change our behaviour or our power/fossil fuel consumption.  If we can buy our way out change, why make the effort to consume less?  Again, this is a personal issue that I have.

So, that webhosting company may indeed be carbon neutral but… what kind of power do they use?  Do they use virtualization, do they run their business in a green way, wherever possible or, do they simply buy credits to be considered “green”?

badges badges badges

Lesson #4: question everything

I found a lot of different “badges” in my searching: green badges, eco-friendly badges, green hosting badges, etc.  on many sites, hoping, I suppose, to show that they were indeed, “green”.  In fact, there were so many of these badges out there, that it almost felt like anyone could slap one together in Photoshop and stick it on their website.  They didn’t mean anything!   Without some kind of standardized certification process in place, you have no idea what kind of “green” standards these companies are living up to.

So yup… get out there and ask questions.

so what have i learned?

Well, I learned, to quote Kermit T. Frog (oh come on, you knew it was coming!) that “it ain’t easy being green”.  There’s a lot to consider.  Yes, darker colours make for less energy consumption but as a designer speaking, how dreary would the world be full of dark websites?  Is there a valid business reason to have a Flash site – or is it just cool?  Green hosting with renewable energy can often be more expensive.  Am I ok with carbon credits being used?  How many people bought something on-line today instead of getting into a car and going to the mall? Is everyone doing what they say they’re doing?  It’s sure not cut and dried and you can’t accept that things are what they seem to be.

online leaf

One site that I found that I will be investing further was Online Leaf.  They have created a standby engine that looks incredibly easy to install and allows you to cut back the power consumption your website requires.  According to their website, it hides heavy animation, pauses heavily running background processes and acts a bit like a screen saver by covering the screen window in dark colours when there’s no activity after a few minutes.  There is a WordPress plug-in you can install if your site is WP based, or you can have your web designer add a small snippet of jQuery code to your site that they provide.  Seeing as our website uses a lot of white space, if I like what I see after further investigation, I will install it here.

So there ends my investigation into all things green.  If any of you have found other handy resources on how to be greener on the web, please feel free to share!