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Top 20 Ways for Web Developers to Reduce Their Carbon Footprint

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Climate change is greatly affected by our carbon footprint. As web developers, it may not seem that we make huge "footprints." We read our mail and news online (no paper), communicate with instant messenger and Skype (no stamps or letters), and many of us relax by watching video or TV shows online (no renting/buying physical DVDs). As a whole, web developers do a pretty good job reducing their carbon footprint.

Yet there are plenty of ways that we can reduce our carbon footprints even further and treat Mother Nature a bit better. After all, every little bit helps when it comes to becoming more environmentally responsible.

So here are the top twenty ways that web developers can reduce their carbon footprint each day. They're simple changes, but in the end they make a huge difference.


This post is part of Blog Action Day 2009, a worldwide initiative started by Envato founders Collis and Cyan Ta'eed, now being run by Change.org. Blog Action Day exists to change the conversation on the web for one day by uniting thousands of bloggers around one important issue - this year, Climate Change. It's not too late to register your blog and participate.

1. Turn Off the Computer

While this may be the most obvious solution, it has a huge impact. Many of us leave our computer running 24/7 because it's convenient. Even if your computer is idle or "sleeping", it still needs the battery. Consider completely shutting off the computer when you go to bed at night. While you're at it, switch off the monitor and sound system if you're using them as well.

2. Turn Off your External Hard Drives at Night

People run backups at night because they don't want to use computing resources when they're actually on the computer. However, backup systems have matured considerably in the past few years, and often times a backup can go unnoticed. I run Time Machine backups on my Mac at hourly intervals and hardly ever notice any real resource consumption.

If you're backing up your hard drives at consistent intervals during the day, you probably don't need to run backups when you're asleep as well.

2. Use Eco-friendly Light Bulbs

Energy Star qualified CFL light bulbs use 75 percent less energy than the standard incandescent light bulb and last ten times longer. Start powering your home office (and rest of the house) with eco-friendly light bulbs. It's estimated each light bulb can also save $30 per lightbulb.

3. Use a Green Web Host

There are plenty of interesting green initiatives happening in the hosting industry. Some hosts are planting a tree for each account, others use alternate energy sources to power their servers. Here's a list of eco-friendly web hosts and how they're doing their part to reduce carbon footprints.

4. Switch to Hibernate when Inactive

Allowing your computer to hibernate or sleep when it's inactive helps save resources and energy. Sleep uses a small amount of power to maintain the memory. Hibernate completely powers down the system and saves your settings on the hard disk. Sleep doesn't save as much energy, but it allows your computer to "wake" faster than hibernate. Either way, using a power-saving state can reduce usage of unneeded power.

Microsoft has a great article on the differences between sleep and hibernate, and which situations to use them.

5. Switch to Linux-powered Computers

Did you know that Linux computers can save e-waste levels by 50%? There was a study done in 2004 that reported definite green benefits to running Linux-powered computers. The main reason: Windows systems had to change hardware every 3-4 years, where Linux systems only needed hardware refreshes every 6-8 years. (source)

While the study is five years old (an eternity in technology years), it still leaves something to consider the next time you purchase a computer.

6. Use Blackle

Heap Media created Blackle, an eco-friendly Google search engine. Based on the theory that a black Google could save 750 Megawatt-hours a year, Blackle is just that. It's identical to the real Google with an energy-saving black color scheme. The monitor uses more resources to display white or light screens as opposed to black or dark screens, so the makers of Blackle may be on to something.

7. Switch to LCD

If you're still using that old, clunky CRT monitor, consider switching to a more environmentally-friendly LCD monitor. CRT monitors require more energy and create more heat than LCD. Besides, what web developer or designer needs an excuse to upgrade their monitor?

8. Work from Home

If you can swing it, working from home makes a considerable dent on your carbon footprint. Driving to work uses fossil fuels, and even the bus system uses fossil fuels as well (though not as much as a car). Plus, if you work in an office space, there's another building that has to be heated (or cooled) and lighted.

9. Increase the Life of your Computer

The longer your computer lasts, the less resources you have to consume buying a new one. Routinely checkup and run maintenance to ensure a long and happy life for your computer.

10. Manage your Bills Online

Many web developers already receive their bills online, but if you don't you definitely should. Think about your office trash can and what makes up the major part of the bulk: mail. Junk mail, bills and more junk mail. While the junk mail is kind of hard to stop, receiving bills online can save quite a bit of paper usage. Try to get all of your bills and newsletters in a digital format and save a few trees in the process.

11. Use an Eco-friendly Font

I had to blink a few times to believe it, but there is actually an eco-friendly font that saves on average 20% more ink than other fonts. The makers of Ecofont remove small parts of the letter in order save ink. The parts that are removed are hardly noticeable in print. Ingenious.

12. Rely on Natural Lighting

Natural lighting is better than a lightbulb any day, and can add some warmth to the room as well. Open up those blinds and turn off those overhead lights. You'll have to be careful where you position your computer to make sure there isn't a glare on the monitor, but nothing beats a soft, natural light to fill your workspace.

13. Don't use a Screensaver

Screensavers were initially created to add life to the monitor by keeping phosphors from burning images into an idle monitor. But modern computers don't have these problems, and screensavers are now just a way to personalize your computer. Screensavers still use power, and can even keep your computer from going into a fully-saving power mode.

14. Turn off the Coffee Maker

For those of us that drink coffee, there's an easy way to save energy: turning off the coffee maker. Turn off the warmer when you're done drinking coffee. Oftentimes laziness keeps us from actually switching off the pot when we're finished, and the coffee maker needlessly heats the coffee for hours afterwards. Not only will you save energy, you'll also save your nostrils from the smell of stale coffee burning on the warming plate. Gross.

15. Put on a Sweater

For each degree you lower your heat, you'll save up to 5% in heating costs. So consider dropping the thermostat a couple degrees and putting on a sweater. You'll save money on your heating bill and use less energy and resources in the process.

16. Cut Back on Phantom Power

Phantom power is energy that's wasted by appliances plugged in and using small bits of power while they're not being used. You can use a smart powerstrip that cuts the power when the appliance is off, unplug things when you're done with them, and use devices like the Kill A Watt to monitor energy consumption.

Learn how to reduce phantom power at Treehugger.

17. Make your Sites Printer-friendly

While most of us web ninjas laugh at the prospect of printing a web site, many people still do. If you don't have a printer-friendly version available on all pages, this means that everything on the page is printed, using needless ink on things like design colors and images.

Fortunately, it's pretty simple to add printer-friendly versions of sites. Many modern designs have a separate print stylesheet for printer pages, like so:

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="print.css" media="print" />

You'll notice the media="print" is where the magic happens. About.com has an excellent article on what a print-friendly stylesheet needs to have.

18. Say NO to Styrofoam

If you work in an office, bring your own cup for your coffee instead of using the styrofoam cups. Styrofoam is awful on the environment, mainly because it doesn't decompose like other materials. Even if you recycle the styrofoam, the process takes a very long time and is difficult. Also, styrofoam contains chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) which hurts the ozone.

In short: styrofoam should be avoided as much as possible. Besides, doesn't a real coffee mug feel so much better in your hands?

19. Add a Plant (or two)

Plants can make a huge difference in a home or office. Aside from the health benefits, plants can improve air quality considerably. A company in New Dehli did a study and added 3 different types of plants to their office building, and found that they could literally "grow their own air". The plants reduced eye irritation, headaches, lung issues, and respiratory system incidents considerably over the course of 15 years. The company also saved energy costs by around 15% thanks to the plants.

20. Use the Library

Instead of buying copies of paper books, check them out at your local library. Most libraries are hooked into an inter-library loan system, so you can find almost any book from your library. How often do you reread all of your books? If you're like me, not very often. Most books are only read once (if at all), and typically just sit on a shelf for show. Instead, show your intelligence by saving paper instead of a filling a bookcase.