How to design more eco-efficient websites: answers from an expert

Building a greener web means addressing the environmental impact of websites and mobile apps from the initial design. Laurent Devernay, a technical consultant in responsible digital technology at Greenspector, which helps organizations create more efficient websites and apps, tells us more about best practices in eco-design and responsibility.


Photo de Laurent Devernay sur fond gris

Laurent Devernay,
Technical consultant in responsible digital technology




The environmental impact of websites and mobile apps is far from neutral. This environmental footprint could be greatly reduced by implementing simple measures, as Laurent Devernay explains to us.


How do you measure the carbon footprint of a website or mobile app?

Laurent Devernay: "Our approach at Greenspector is unique because it considers greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, and space occupation, going beyond the usual CO2 equivalent indicator. We monitor user journeys on real devices and measure the volume of data exchanged, number of requests sent to the server, and energy consumed by the smartphone battery, among other things.

It's worth remembering that measuring the environmental impact of a site or app is complex because they are intangible services and there isn’t a standard as such. Progress is being made, however, as the W3C (web standards consortium) has a working group looking at it. Several professional benchmarks now exist and Greenspector has contributed to a recent AFNOR guideline."


"Digital impact in figures"

Digital technology represents approximately 3.8% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Added to this is the depletion of raw materials (particularly precious metal and mineral mining to manufacture devices), water consumption, and floor space occupation. Globally, the number of web users has more than doubled since 2010, and by 2025, there could be 50 billion connected objects (compared to 20 billion today). According to Laurent Devernay, "Devices account for most of the digital sector’s environmental impacts mainly through their manufacturing phases. They should therefore be kept for as long as possible. But too often they are replaced because the software becomes too hardware intensive. It is therefore necessary to improve software efficiency, through an eco-design approach."


What is an eco-designed website?

L.D.: "We refer to an eco-designed digital service more than an eco-designed site. It starts from the user need (to search the web, contact an advisor, order a product, etc.). The aim is to provide the least impactful response possible, whether that means removing functionality (to keep only what is necessary) or defining a more efficient user journey (to optimize what remains). Sometimes this means replacing a website or a mobile application with an SMS. Once the functionality is defined, the technical efficiency can be optimized, both on the front-end (user interface) and back-end (data centers). The aim is to improve the service’s accessibility and compatibility with older devices and degraded connections. By combining rationalized functionality and technical efficiency, you can avoid forcing users to upgrade their devices too often."


How do you create a site that’s both efficient and beautiful?

L.D.: "You start from the principle of doing what’s necessary to optimize the eco-efficiency of the service offered. Web performance experts have already defined best practices for this, but in reality, the difficultly lies in deciding what to rationalize. Proposing a pure HTML text-only website isn’t always the best way to help the user. So the aim is to produce simple, high-quality, concise content that avoids purely decorative images or unnecessary video content etc.

The priority is to eliminate superfluous functionality (by focusing on user needs), and limiting the content displayed (there’s no need to include a news feed containing dozens of elements). Then you can go about making the remaining content as efficient as possible (using a carousel, for example, is rarely the best way to present content, both in terms of accessibility and efficiency). When a site focuses on the fundamental elements it wants to guide the user to, it can be both efficient and attractive."

Reducing the impact of Orange sites

To limit emissions from our internal (intranets) and external sites (such as, we work with Greenspector to optimize elements such as the video player, image display, and user journeys. By combining this with rationalizing functionality and content on our sites, we’ve been able to halve the volume of data transmitted.

We also used an eco-design approach to publish the latest Orange Integrated Annual Report, reducing its carbon impact by 55% compared to the previous edition.

Finally, our employees regularly discuss best practices in terms of digital efficiency via numerous Group initiatives, dedicated events, and our internal social network.