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GDS highlights energy use in websites

04/03/20

Mark Say Managing Editor

An official from the Government Digital Service (GDS) has urged public sector organisations to increase their attention to energy consumption in the design and content of their websites.

Cranes building website

Emily Labram, senior product manager at GDS, highlighted the issue at the UKAuthority/Microsoft How Green is our Digital? event as a significant element in using technology to promote sustainability.

She said it is part of the effort to reduce carbon emissions and develop a greener ICT estate in government, and reflects the increased energy consumption as the content and complexity of web pages has increased.

In response, organisations need to keep their web pages as simple as possible.

“The size of the average web page is part of the problem,” she said. “It has increased at least threefold between 2010-18. On many websites now you find auto-playing, ads, a lot of video content.

“This is a complicated world and there is a way to reduce the emissions from using heavy content like video but, in general, if we can avoid heavy Javascript on the front end it will reduce the amount of electricity to keep the website running.

“In government we have often operated within those constraints for other reasons such as accessibility.”

Win-win

She said there is a ‘win-win’ in this as making websites accessible also reduces their carbon impact.

As an example she pointed to the ‘Learn how to drive a car’ guidance on GOV.UK, and urged public sector designers to stay in touch with GDS for updates on guidance.

Labram also made the point that it is counter-intuitive to many people that maintaining a website has a carbon impact, but that more are now becoming aware of the energy requirements of data centres and that the ICT industry is now a major consumer of electricity and source of carbon emissions.

One of the steps to reduce this is to regularly look at how digital services operating through the websites can be pruned and simplified. This helps to remove “unnecessary cruft and bloat” that adds to energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Labram added organisations also need to look carefully at how their use of cloud services impacts their energy consumption.

“We should all be asking ourselves could we use and waste less,” she said. “The amount of waste when we’re using the cloud is extraordinary as it is easy to allow costs to escalate, for example by leaving developer tools and environments running overnight, and through letting services scale up and up without asking if we have the volumes to justify it.

“Using less and wasting less is a whole team activity across the organisation.”

This involves working closely with providers on their use of energy, and there is an ambition to move towards using hosting services that have zero carbon emissions.

Image from MedithIT, CC BY 2.0

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