Designing responsible websites is fun

In the register of everyday eco-gestures that everyone can implement to do their part of the hummingbird, emptying their mailbox and limiting the number of videos viewed online are operations that are now well known. At the other end of the chain, designers of websites 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 campaign. awareness of responsible digital.

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

By way of comparison, the waste sector accounts for 2 %. “Half of the current footprint is due to data centers and the network. The rest depends on the peripherals, for example computers”, explains Pierre Pluviaud, managing director of Datacampus, a French data center company. Reducing the digital weight of websites makes it possible to act on the energy consumption of storage spaces and the devices used to connect to them.

No legal constraints

Several regulatory constraints apply to digital to make it more responsible, aiming to protect the data of its users or possible access to websites by all audiences. The General Repository for Improving Accessibility (RGAA), for example, aims to facilitate navigation for people with disabilities on digital public services and certain private services. Vincent Courboulay, scientific director of the Responsible Digital Institute (INR) and teacher-researcher at the University of La Rochelle, specifies that a methodological framework for the eco-design of sites is in the making within the French Standardization Agency. (Afnor).

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

The legislator has recently considered the environmental aspect of the subject, with the adoption in November 2021 of a law relating to the reduction of the digital footprint in France. It is a first of its kind in Europe, even in the world, according to Senator LR Patrick Chaize, one of the parliamentarians who is behind it. The topics covered by this text are varied, going far beyond the eco-design of websites. However, it introduces a general reference system for the eco-design of digital services and a training obligation in this area for future engineers, which is not, however, accompanied by a sanction.

The parliamentarian underlined that in the absence of consensus on all points, ” the intention “ rather than obligation has often been privileged in the law. For this, it relies on regulatory texts. It is in fact for him to ” stay focus “ going there “gradually”.

“This law has the advantage of putting the subject on the table”, Judge Vincent Courboulay who underlines 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 charter at the request of the Ministry for Ecological Transition. It has since been signed by more than 250 public bodies, communities and companies. What, says the scientific director of the INR, “raise the subject internally” signatory companies.

For the time being only declarative, adherence to the values ​​of the charter will soon be subject to a rating of the commitments of the signatories. For the time being, they mainly relate to training actions, purchasing policies and the extension of the lifespan of devices. But Vincent Courboulay notes that responsible site developers are contacted by companies of all sizes, without quantifying them.

find compromises

Bug agency is one of the companies that develop such responsible sites. Starting with hers, which she 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 compared to a more usual site, indicates Paul Guibert, associate director of Bug agency. Among its clients, “convinced from the start with an eco-friendly business model” and “large companies aware that the subject must be dealt with without necessarily knowing how to take it”.

He notes a very recent change in their approach, which can be explained by future regulatory changes. “Not all sites look like ours! », he specifies. Often, responsible design cannot be seen: the levers activated will be chosen according to the needs and requirements of the sponsor. For example, a client may wish to keep a video on the home page to present his activity, while reducing the number of pages on his site to optimize it. In fact, it is often a question of looking for the “best compromise” between an efficient design and the economic utility of the site concerned, believes Benjamin Dutil, secretary and deputy scientific director of the INR.

The latter regularly trains large companies on the subject: “They are all aware that responsible digital technology is needed, but they are in the dark to find how to go about it”. In particular, they are served by multiple hierarchical strata that give everyone the impression of lacking room for maneuver to act. But responsible digital is a “transversal approach”, if only to avoid transfers of pollution between services, he comments.

Native fonts and server cooling

The range of tools that can be used relates, among other things, to the choice of colors that consume less energy, and therefore emit less light. Native fonts, ie fonts installed by default in internet browsers (Arial, Times New Roman, etc.), are preferred so as not to have to download them when displaying the site. Ditto for “click here” type icons: the use of 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 displaying the site and the server that hosts it.

A reflection on the user experience makes it possible to reduce the number of links, and therefore clicks, or even to remove pages that would prove to be useless

In general, a reflection on the user experience makes it possible to reduce the number of links, and therefore of clicks, or even to remove pages that would prove to be useless. In fact, summarizes Paul Guibert, “all ecodesign practices are modeled on good development practices”. Regarding the impact of these techniques, several schools exist to measure them. They can estimate the weight of the bandwidth of sites and services, ie the number of requests and elements in transit. Or rely on the consumption at the end of the chain of the device allowing them to be consulted.

There remains another major point to reduce the impact of a site: the server on which it is hosted. Better not to overestimate the storage space needed. Some data center operators are also working to reduce their impact. “The simplest thing is to cool the servers, which represents 30 % to 40% of their consumption”, exposes Pierre Pluviaud. Datacampus presents itself as the only company in the sector to have adopted the status of company with a mission. He mentions the existence of several alternative techniques to the air conditioning of servers. For example, their immersion in a bath of coolant.

From a perspective of sustainable development, the environmental aspect does not however appear to be the only one to be taken into account. Added to this are the social aspects, cybersecurity and even the information carried by these services. “Within the INR, we even go as far as the question of prosperity, that is to say the creation of values ​​and jobs”says Vincent Courboulay.

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Designing responsible websites is fun

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