How to blog more sustainably

How to blog more sustainably  

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Generally on our blog we cover topics that aim to help a general audience to live more sustainably; this is not one of those posts. 😉
This one is directed at bloggers and other website owners. I’m going to talk about the sustainability issues with blogging and how you can minimize them without a huge amount of effort.

I’m going to start off with a small disclaimer: Blogging is obviously not the biggest cause of environmental issues. Because of that, a lot of bloggers may be wondering why they should even care about this in the first place. However, the internet is responsible for quite a large quantity of carbon emissions and it doesn’t have to be difficult to reduce them. It often comes with other benefits too. In particular, making your website load faster. It can also reduce your hosting bill. This is very much a win-win if you spend some time on it. Since we own a blog on sustainable living, it was important to us that the blog itself was as sustainable as it could be too which is why I researched this topic.

Why is blogging not sustainable?

The issue with blogging (and the internet in general) when it comes to sustainability is that there are many intermediaries in the process. Everyone knows about the emissions caused by your own device as well as the emissions of the server which hosts the blog. What is lesser known is that when you visit a website, your request can be routed through many other countries and many other companies. Neither the website owner nor the user has significant control over this routing. As a result, there are many data centers around the world using very high amounts of fossil fuel energy to keep the servers in this process running. In this post, I’m going to focus on the parts that we can control. That means finding a good hosting provider as well as minimizing the amount of internet traffic used by your blog.

Tip 1: Find a green hosting provider

Green hosting
Web hosting run entirely on renewables doesn’t seem to be available yet. We’ll have to rely on carbon offsets until then.

As a blogger/website owner, you are responsible for where your blog or website is hosted. You have thousands of options (maybe more). It can actually be hard to choose between them. They all offer a similar sounding service for a similar price! The vast majority of them don’t make any real commitments to the environment either. Luckily, there are some which do. These are the ones you need to look at if you want to blog more sustainably.

Unfortunately, as I write this, there doesn’t seem to be any hosting provider which exclusively uses green energy. My guess is that this is because they need absolute reliability. They cannot rely on any particular energy source because if that goes down, all of the servers will go down. They often take electricity from many sources and have backup generators powered by diesel for if there is a significant loss of energy event. Until a solution to this is found, green hosting providers offer the next best thing – carbon offsets.

I have mixed feelings for carbon offsets. In fact, I wrote a blog post about them. Since this is the best that can be offered right now though and that using them is likely better than regular hosting, I think it is the way forward for sustainable blogging. Providers will often buy carbon offsets to offset 100% of the emissions caused by your hosting. There are others that go further than that. Our hosting provider offsets 300% of the emissions, which is the best I’ve seen so far. If you’re interested I’d recommend checking out GreenGeeks. There are other options too though, such as A2 Hosting, HostPapa and iPage.

Tip 2: Reduce your internet traffic

High data usage
This person is waiting for your website to load because you’re using too many plugins and large images.

When you’re using green hosting for your blog/website, the next thing you can do is to reduce the amount of internet traffic that your website uses. This one is more difficult because it requires an ongoing effort, but it will be worth it. It will make your pages load faster and can lower your hosting costs if you pay depending on how much bandwidth you use. How can you reduce the traffic? Here are some good examples:

  • Reduce the sizes of images. If you’re putting an image in a post, make sure the image is an appropriate size for where you’re putting it. If it’s only going to be a small image, it doesn’t need to be in full HD or 4K which will consume much more data without any real benefit. Blogging platforms such as WordPress allow you to select smaller sizes which will be more appropriate.
  • Reduce the number of plugins. Plugins often require loading lots of additional resources which can be overkill if you don’t really need the plugin in the first place. This is actually one of the biggest causes of a slow loading blog. Do yourself and your users a favor by looking through the list of plugins and getting rid of the ones you don’t need 🙂
  • Install a minify plugin. That might sound contradictory because I just told you to reduce the number of plugins, but this is one plugin that you do need. I expect a lot of you are wondering, “what does minify mean?”. It’s simple really. This kind of plugin which will take all of your website’s styling and scripts, remove anything that you don’t need and then combine them into one small file which can be loaded quickly and easily. It removes the complexity of having to load many different files, a lot of which are unnecessary in the first place. On WordPress, we use a plugin called “Asset CleanUp“.

Another small note: You can often make a significant reduction in internet traffic by reducing the number of advertisements on your blog. However, this would obviously impact the blog’s revenue. It is something that I would suggest considering but may not be an option for everyone.

Tip 3: Use caching

So far, we’ve been able to find green hosting and reduce the amount of internet traffic. There’s one last area to focus on though: caching. This is another word you might not be familiar with, but it isn’t as scary as it sounds.

It takes a lot of processing power and energy to fetch all of the posts and then put it into your template every time, which is a little silly because the blog probably looks exactly the same as it did 5 minutes ago. The contents of a blog or website don’t necessarily change very often. This is where caching comes in. After processing how the page should look, it stores it so that the next user can just see the stored page rather than having to redo all of the processing again. This is great for your server’s energy usage and for how quickly the page loads.

There are two ways you can do this. You can use a cache plugin on your blogging platform which can take care of it all. We recommend the plugin WP Super Cache for this if you’re using WordPress. Perhaps a better option is to use a service called CloudFlare. We use it ourselves. The basic plan is free and offers a bunch of benefits such as security and caching. The good thing about CloudFlare’s caching is that it can store your blog’s pre-processed pages on a server near to the user. This means your users will see your website loading much faster and the internet requests will not need to travel as far, which is great for reducing the number of middlemen and great for the environment.

Conclusion

In this post, I’ve tried to given some tips on how you can blog more sustainably. A lot of the suggestions can be done in an hour and then forgot about. It doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming to run your website in a more sustainable way. We’ve implemented all of these tips on this website and it has made a huge difference in page load times as well as overall emissions. I’d recommend doing the same. If you have any other suggestions or if you’ve been able to implement any of these, feel free to leave a comment!

PS – We just made the list of top 100 sustainability blogs on Feedspot – yay!

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