How Ecograder Reduces Website Carbon Emissions

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Ecograder graphics with icons representing various forms of data

Mightybytes updated our free digital sustainability tool Ecograder to include carbon estimation and provide more useful, actionable reporting. Here’s how you can use it to measurably reduce estimated website carbon emissions.

Understanding Your Website’s Environmental Impact

Your website is part of a digital ecosystem that uses a lot of energy:

  • End users burn device energy every time they click a button, fill out a form, or otherwise interact with your content.
  • Networks require energy to transmit your data across a wide array of cables, switchers, routers, and other devices.
  • Data centers use energy (and a lot of water) to store, optimize, and serve data as it is requested by users.
  • Embodied energy and resources are required to create and use all the hardware and software necessary to manage our vast array of digital products and services.

With nearly five billion worldwide users driving traffic and engagement across this ecosystem, the internet is a significant source of global carbon emissions. Some estimates put its environmental impact on par with that of the airline industry. 

To address this, we need tools, practices, and web standards to help people better understand, track, manage, and reduce digital footprints. The new version of Ecograder was specifically designed to help with this.

Related Content: To better understand the environmental, social, and economic impacts of your digital ecosystem, check out our posts What is Corporate Digital Responsibility? and 7 Core CDR Principles.

Increasing Digital Sustainability Awareness

When Mightybytes originally built Ecograder in 2013, our goal was to help people understand how websites and other digital products contribute to the internet’s massive environmental impact. Since its original launch, Ecograder has crawled millions of websites. 

Now, our collective understanding of digital sustainability and other sustainable web design principles has evolved. Organizations increasingly include emissions from digital products and services as part of their Scope 3 emissions targets. Tools like Ecograder can help organizations measurably reduce these digital emissions

How Ecograder Estimates Website Carbon Emissions

All models are wrong, some are useful.

— The Green Web Foundation

The new Ecograder utilizes CO2.js from the Green Web Foundation, a script designed to estimate website carbon emissions. The specific methodology CO2.js uses is outlined in Calculating Digital Emissions on the Sustainable Web Design site we created with our friends at Wholegrain Digital.

It is important to mention that the estimates Ecograder produces are incomplete. They don’t show the whole picture of your digital product’s environmental impact. For that, we always recommend conducting a full digital life cycle assessment. However, estimates produced by Ecograder and related tools are useful to start conversations about web sustainability and explore what an organization can do about it.

To devise this methodology, we partnered with our Wholegrain Digital pals, environmental consultant Rym Baouendi, web performance and environmental app EcoPing, and The Green Web Foundation.

Based on this, Ecograder’s carbon accounting includes percentage estimates for the ecosystem scenarios mentioned above:

  • Consumer device use (52%)
  • Network use (14%)
  • Data center use (15%)
  • Hardware production (19%)

This attributional model allows for more specific data—like regional carbon intensity, percentage of renewable energy, or hosting emissions—when that information is available. It is also important to note that this is an imperfect model which we are improving upon publicly in real-time as new data and studies become available.

Finally, one of our primary goals is that Ecograder provides report data that is consistent with similar tools. By incorporating CO2.js, the reports Ecograder generates should also produce similar emissions estimates as those from EcoPing.Earth, Website Carbon, and others that use this module.

Reducing Digital Emissions with Ecograder

Using Ecograder is quick and simple. It still works as before: 

  1. Input a web address (URL)
  2. Click submit 
  3. Receive a report on how to improve your website

However, we made a few important improvements in this new version.

First, the most significant update to Ecograder’s scoring mechanism is the addition of page-based carbon estimation. At the top of your report, you’ll now see two figures instead of just one:

  1. Overall Page Score: A page score between 1 and 100 indicates how your page ranks in Ecograder’s scoring algorithm (similar to the old version).
  2. Emissions Estimate: Your page’s estimated carbon impact, including equivalencies to help users compare their website impact to common fossil fuel-burning activities.

Next, we completely redesigned the algorithm from the ground up. We ditched outdated metrics and technologies. We also re-weighted individual scoring components based on the Sustainable Web Design model:

  • Page Metrics: Ecograder now includes many more page-based metrics than the previous versions. We broke them into several categories:
    • Page Weight: How much data must users download to display the page?
    • User Experience: Might the page impede users from quickly accomplishing tasks? How does the page perform for users across browsers and devices?
  • Green Hosting: Does the page use a web host that is powered by renewable energy? 

Admin Dashboard

Ecograder also now includes an admin dashboard that allows us to analyze crawl data, tweak algorithm settings, and adjust recommendations as we learn new things. Sustainable Web Design is an emerging field, so best practices change fast.

Adjusting Emissions Estimates for Traffic

Also, more page views equals more emissions. You can adjust Ecograder’s emissions estimates based on the amount of monthly traffic your page gets. If your URL regularly receives 1,000 or 1,000,000 views per month, for example, you can adjust for that. 

Implementing Ecograder’s Recommendations

Finally, we also designed the new report to prioritize specific actions you can take to reduce website carbon emissions. Our goal was to make Ecograder as easy as possible for anyone to understand while also providing clear direction for designers, developers, and website/product managers to implement changes.

Each report allows you to drill down to reduce emissions by minifying scripts, optimizing or resizing images, and so on. Where relevant, Ecograder also links out to additional resources for a deeper understanding of specific Sustainable Web Design topics. 

Let’s Green the Web

The Indexed Web contains at least 3.71 billion pages.

World Wide Web Size

Shaving a few kb off a page may seem like a minor, ineffectual thing. However, small changes at scale make up big changes. There are nearly 4 billion web pages on the internet. By taking collective action on even a fraction of those, we can measurably reduce the internet’s overall environmental impact.

Mightybytes built Ecograder to help anyone better understand these principles. Now, it’s up to Ecograder’s users to put them into practice and make a difference. If you find Ecograder useful, please consider sharing it with other marketers, designers, developers, product managers, and website owners. Thank you.

Digital Carbon Ratings, now in Ecograder.

Understand how your website stacks up against industry carbon averages with this new feature.

Try Ecograder
Tim Frick founded Mightybytes in 1998 to help mission-driven organizations solve problems, amplify their impact, and meet business and marketing goals. He is the author of four books, including Designing for Sustainability: A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products and Services from O'Reilly Media. Connect with Tim on LinkedIn.