Green Hosting Posts - Environmental & Social

How website owners and content creators can help reduce carbon emissions

1st Nov 2021

COP26 is officially underway. Now is the time that we want to see world leaders make real commitments to reducing carbon emissions. Amongst other means, two proposed measures to achieve this are to accelerate the phase-out of coal and encourage investment in renewables.

COP26 logoThere will need to be some bold pledges from those in power, and waiting for them to take action can leave us feeling a little powerless. However, as we know, every change can make a difference.

In our world of web design and website hosting, we know of a few ways that small changes to our online activities can collectively have a big, positive impact.

Here’s what we all can do:

  • Have a digital clean up – delete things that you no longer need and/or aren’t legally required to store.
  • Be discerning about what you post on social media and how frequently.
  • Think twice before making videos. They are the hungriest of all types of media, using the most data storage and transfer and energy consumption.
  • Re-size and optimise website images before uploading them to your website.
  • Think about digital waste… Does your website use an old, inefficient theme or keep idle plugins?
  • Keep on top of your mail-box, be especially aware of attachments and remember the sent items folder.
  • Choose a green website hosting provider to power your website with renewable energy.
  • Choose web companies who are also working to reduce their carbon emissions.

Why should we do these things?

Despite the internet appearing to be an intangible thing, it is very much made up of physical resources and consumes huge amounts of energy, 24 hours a day. Read more about this in our previous articles...

How using Green Hosting can help reduce carbon emissions and exercise consumer influence

Reducing Waste in Our Digital Lives


We have taken The Ethical Move pledge

17th Sep 2021

Those who know us know that we are always looking for ways to make more positive changes to the services we provide and the way we do business. This runs from the suppliers we choose to the way we support our clients.

The Ethical Move badgeMore recently we have been looking at how we market our services and how we can ensure that we aren't partaking in unethical practices. This is where the Ethical Move Comes in.

The Ethical Move aims to change the way that businesses sell and customers consume, to break the cycle of consumerism. Some businesses use tactics to convice customers to buy things they don't really need and that isn't doing anyone any good, least of all the planet.

So The Ethical Move have created a pledge for businesses to take and we have taken it too. We haven't needed to make any adjustments to our marketing practices as these are things we already do but it is great to have them in writing and to 'wear' our The Ethical Move badge!

Our Pledge

1) Charm pricing
We pledge to continue to use round numbers and not  'charm prices'.

2) Countdowns
We pledge to not use countdown timers to drive a sale.

3) False scarcity
We pledge to be honest about availability.

4) Lead magnets
We pledge to be transparent in our email list building.

5) Bait and switch
We pledge to deliver the value we promise pitch-conscious.

6) Woke washing
We pledge to not use social issues to leverage our marketing.

7) Secret recipe
We pledge to not make false promises in our sales and marketing.

Like any development and progression in business we anticipate that there will be more ways that we can improve over time. This pledge isn't the end and it isn't set in stone.

You can find out more about the aims of The Ethical move here and details of the pledge here.


How to make your social media content more inclusive

19th Feb 2021

Social media is pretty much a standard part of most businesses’ online marketing by now but users’ experience of it is far from standardised. This could be due to the content itself, how it's posted, or both. For people who have disabilities it may be difficult to access social media in many ways, which at best could be frustrating and at worst be a complete barrier.

With some forward planning and a few adjustments to the way we prepare and post, we could be providing a whole different and much more inclusive experience to many users.

This is a whistle-stop tour to highlight the different aspects of our social media posts we could (should) be making more accessible and inclusive. I'll say right now that we are learning too and will be implementing these things in our posts going forward.

At the end of this article I've added links to some really great guides and deeper information by the experts in this subject. There's a video from AbilityNet, which is very much worth a watch too.

Describing Images

Images are a big deal in our social media, especially in Instagram where it’s all about that engaging picture. For visitors who cannot see images, a useful and concise description is needed in the form of ‘Alt Text’.

Facebook creates automatically generated alt text, which you will need to check and edit, for Instagram and Twitter you can add alt text:
Editing alt text in Facebook
Adding alt text in Twitter
Adding alt text in Instagram

In some instances, alt text may not be sufficient to describe your image, especially if your image includes text (more about that below). In these situations you could add an image description into your post text or link through to the full information on your website.

Audio & Video

For podcasts or audio-only content, a transcript should be included. If this isn’t possible within the post itself then you could provide a link to the full transcript wherever it is available online.

Transcripts can also be added to YouTube videos as can closed captions. Google provide useful guides on adding your own closed captions and creating a transcript file for YouTube videos.

Subtitles vs Captions?
Subtitles covey only the dialogue in the video and captions convey all of the essential audio (e.g. sound effects, music etc as well as dialogue). So you need to decide which will be most useful for the video you’re publishing.

AbilityNet have a great guide on this and adding captions to various platforms, which in the video is discussed at 26:50 and is on page 9 of the transcript document.

Audio descriptions

An audio description is useful for videos where visual content conveys meaning or information. However, you may be able to plan your video in advance so they’re not needed.
The W3C provide clarification on audio descriptions, when to use them and how to add them

Fonts and text

Custom fonts
Custom fonts, which aren't included as standard on the social media platform can be difficult to read, due to the letter forms. Additionally, on social media custom fonts are are ignored by text readers and assistive technology. Using the fonts as provided means a better user experience and reduces the risk of your content not being read at all.

Text in images
If possible it's always best to avoid using text in images at all. However, it is a great way to make an impact, especially on Instagram. When using text in images, it is important to use a legible font that won't become illegible when zoomed to a much larger size. Also choose a simple or sans-serif font, where individual characters are easily distinguished. And importantly, ensure that the font colour and background colour contrast well so that the text is clear and strong. WebAim provide a very useful colour contrast checker which helps you easily choose highly contrasting colour combinations.

Hashtags

We can get a little carried away with hashtags sometimes, trying to hit as many key tags as possible. However, we need to take care about how we use them. Camel caps not only make hashtags much more legible but also allows text readers to distinguish individual words within the tag. To demonstrate camel case vs non-camel case, see the following:
#ThisIsCamelCase
#thisisnotcamelcase

Disability Rights Fund also advise putting hashtags in comments, separate from the post text. However others suggest hashtags within the post are OK if used in context within the sentence.

Emojis

How we love an emoji to bring personality to our posts! However, for some people emojis can make the caption too ‘busy’ and difficult to read. They can also problems for those using text readers if used excessively and in the middle of sentences. This is because the text readers announce the name of the emoji and as you can imagine may make a post seem nonsensical. AbilityNet provide a brilliant example of this in their example video of emojis being read aloud (at 11:33).

The Language we Use

This is a huge topic in itself and not as clear cut as making technical adjustments. However, two important things to be aware of are:

  1. respectful and safe language - Being aware of discriminatory use of words or words that reinforce stigma and prejudices. It may also be necessary to include trigger warnings for some content.
  2. assuming how people may understand and process language. This may be made more difficult to jargon used, industry specific acronyms, abstract concepts and complexity for example. Simple and direct language, where possible, is more inclusive.

Further information:

Here are some very useful resources which provide much more detail:

WebAim - People with Disabilities on the Web

Ability Net - How to Do Accessible Social Media (webinar and Q&As)

UK Government Communication Service - Planning, creating and publishing accessible social media campaigns

RNIB - Making Your Social Media Accessible

Disability Rights Fund - Creating Accessible Social Media for Those With DeafBlindness

Hootsuite - Inclusive Design for Social Media

W3C - Making Audio and Video Media Accessible

Emojipedia - See all of the different names of emojis

Self-Defined - A dictionary of words which may be not be inclusive

Gov.UK - Inclusive language: words to use and avoid when writing about disability

Stroke Association - Accessible Information Guidelines (Making information accessible for people with aphasia)


Reducing digital exclusion in online content creation

30th Oct 2020

Website owners and content creators are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of our digital lives. But what about the social impact? It’s not always about what you’re saying online that has implications, how you say it matters too. The reason for this is because not all web users have the same access to online information and resources. Low connection speeds, limited data allowances and disability can mean that some people are excluded from certain content. It is important to know if your content is helping or hindering.

What type of content excludes users?

Slow-loading websites which have not been optimised for efficiency and contain unnecessarily large photos, videos and files can cause problems for website visitors with low connection speeds and limited data. Working through all of those heavy web pages uses up data allowances and some visitors may run out of time or resources before they reach what they really need.

Accessibility and inclusion online are vital for disabled people. Some websites and website content can cause real problems for disabled website users and the assistive technology they might employ whilst online. It is now a legal requirement in the UK for public sector websites to be built and managed in a way that is accessible for disabled users. We have been building websites this way for many years (because why wait for the law to tell you not to discriminate?) and much of what is involved is technical. However, there are ways to manage and publish your website content that makes sure it is accessible to disabled people.

Why digital inclusion is important

  • People on lower incomes anywhere in the world are more likely to be using services with low connection speeds and reduced data allowances.
  • Some households may be sharing a device between several people, which spreads data resources even more thinly.
  • People with disabilities may have a greater need to access online services because physical or face-to-face services are not accessible to them.
  • Shopping online has been found to be 13% cheaper than shopping in-store. This can make a huge difference for people on lower incomes.
  • Now more than ever people are more reliant on online communication with family and friends. Their data is probably best used for a chat with a loved one than streaming an embedded video.
  • Not being able to access the Internet fully means that it is harder for people to develop essential skills in today’s world. This, in turn, causes further negative effects in all areas of life including health, social isolation, education and jobs outcomes. As Good Things Foundation explain; Those who are already at a disadvantage through age, education, income, disability, or unemployment are those who are most likely to be missing out, further widening the social inequality gap.

How can website owners and content creators make a difference?

Be mindful of the things we post online. Take some time to learn about what it means to optimise your website and what makes it accessible or inaccessible to disabled people. There may be things that only your web designer can address but there are certainly ways in which you can manage other aspects, especially your content:

  • Re-size and reduce the file size of photographs before publishing them to your website. Photographs shouldn’t be uploaded directly from the camera several thousand pixels wide and at print quality DPI. Firstly re-size them appropriately for their use (header image, gallery photo, thumbnail etc) and make sure they are suitable for screen PPI, no more. Pic Monkey has some useful guides on optimising photographs for print and for the web.
  • If you’re using WordPress for your website remove idle plugins. Even plugins which aren’t in use will load with the rest of the website, like a digital rubbish bag weighing you down.
  • Video is the most data-hungry of all online content. Is a video necessary when text would quickly and easily get the message across?
  • Does your content get to the point? Does a website visitor have to go through other marketing information before getting to what they really need?
  • Add ‘Alt text’ to your images – These are descriptions of images for visitors who cannot see them but may be read by assistive technology. The facility to add Alt text should be built into your website editor.
  • Don’t use images to convey text information. Text reader software cannot access this and make it available to the website user. If you do put informative text inside an image, add this as actual text too.
  • Use accessible, contrasting colours for backgrounds and foregrounds, especially if the foreground colour is to be used in text. Some colours are not contrasting enough to be accessible to people with vision impairment. Here is a useful colour contrast checker tool.
  • Always provide transcripts with video or audio content for deaf or hearing impaired people.
  • Use headings to create content structure and never for decoration. Headings used appropriately (i.e. heading 1 first, followed by heading 2s and so on) are useful for non-visual users to skip through your content quickly to find what they need. If headings are used purely because the larger text looks nice and not to form a structure then this will be unhelpful and cause the content to be inaccessible.
  • Put link text in context. When creating links, instead of creating the link using just the word ‘here’, add the link to text which describes what the link is for – e.g. ‘see our calendar of events here’. Again, this helps visitors who are using tools to skip through content to easily find exactly what they need.

These are just a few examples of things all content creators, publishers and managers can do to support digital inclusion. Optimising a photograph may seem like a small thing to do, but like all actions of individuals, collectively they can make a huge difference. The best thing about these changes is that not only do they have social benefits but they have environmental ones too and they improve your SEO! Search engines much prefer quicker, well optimised, well structured websites. It’s a win-win situation all round.

There are wider and more complex details in the design and development of websites but these are for your web designer to address.

Below are some useful resources if you’d like to read up on these topics further:

Making the Web Accessible – The World Wide Web Consortium, Web Accessibility Initiative

ONS – Exploring the UKs digital divide

Good Things Foundation

The Guardian - Digital divide 'isolates and endangers' millions of UK's poorest

GOV.UK - Making online public services accessible

Android Central - How much mobile data does streaming media use?

Wikipedia - List of countries by Internet connection speeds


How using Green Hosting can help reduce carbon emissions and exercise consumer influence

8th Jan 2020

Awareness of sustainable lifestyle choices has thankfully now become part of the mainstream. We are extremely conscious of plastic pollution, unsustainable palm oil, switching to meat free meals and buying from zero waste shops. We take a lot of time to think about how choices and actions in our physical lives affect the planet and life upon it.

But what about our online lives? How often do we hear conversations or read articles in the mainstream about the pollution and waste created by the Internet? Not that often I would say. When I talk to people about the negative environmental effect the Internet has, they are often initially surprised that they haven’t considered this before. Consuming and posting content online is such a big part of our every day lives, how have we omitted to think of the power and resources needed to maintain it?

Probably because to us it’s invisible and intangible. It just works. We don’t see the energy required to power, maintain and cool the servers that store, process and deliver every single item of content that is posted online, or the 8 million global datacentres that house those servers.

The environmental cost of the Internet

Currently there are over 4 billion of us using the internet and according to We Are Social & Hootsuite there are on average more than a million new users coming online every day. Our internet use is consuming 3% of the world’s electricity supply and in 2015 totalled more than the whole of the UK’s consumption that year. This is continually growing at an extremely fast rate and experts predict that by 2030 the energy supply in Japan will be completely consumed by data centres.

That massive energy use doesn’t come without an environmental cost. Most data centres are powered by fossil fuel energy sources which means that the global carbon emissions of the world’s data centres now equal that of the aviation industry. The Shift Project also tell us that video watching alone (the hungriest of all online media) generated the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions as that produced by the whole of Spain in 2018.

In a world where we are trying hard to reduce our environmental impact in most areas our online lives seem to be going in the opposite direction.

Switching your website to renewables

According to Greenpeace there is much work to be done but there are some positives too. Since 2010 when they began documenting and reporting the demand for energy and resulting pollution caused by data centres some major internet companies have expressed their commitment to moving to 100% renewables. This has had the knock-on effect of utility companies in the US switching to renewables to meet customer demands and attract new investors.

So, how about your own website? You can make sure that is powered by renewable energy too by using Green Hosting. Switching to a hosting company that powers its servers and data centres with renewables means you are not only helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by our online lives but you are also telling utility and data centre companies that Internet users want more clean energy. This is a great way to exercise your consumer power!

Our Green Hosting

Our green website hosting is powered 100% by renewable energy, all year round. The Centro data centre, which houses our hosting servers, runs entirely on wind generated electricity from UK on-shore and off-shore wind farms. Because the energy is supplied via the grid, the power does not stop if the wind isn’t blowing, nor does it need to fall back on fossil fuels. It remains as reliable as ever and as green as always.

Centro data centre isn’t wasteful with that green energy either and has in fact achieved a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.2, which is a very high efficiency rating. This is because it has been designed and built to use electricity as efficiently as possible. By extracting hot air from the building and using naturally cold outside air through the water-based chillers, the cooling systems do not need to be constantly at full power as they would in traditional data centres.

Our Green Hosting service provides all of the same, usual features you would expect from other hosting companies. So, if your website is hosted elsewhere we can help you switch to Green Hosting with minimal disruption.

Sian from #EthicalHour said this about switching to us:

“I'm really impressed with the service I received from Green Hosting. I was nervous about moving my site over in case anything got lost or broken but they guided me through the whole process, answered all my questions in plain English and kept me updated at every stage. They handled the whole switch over for me and it went smoothly. Not only have they made my site more sustainable but it's actually much faster now too!”

You can find out more about our Green Hosting service and see more lovely client comments at green-hosting.co.uk

What else can we do to make our online lives more sustainable?

There are other ways we can live more sustainably online, both via our own websites and elsewhere. We wrote an article about this for Zero Waste Week 2019, so do check it out.

Useful reading resources

There are lots of useful resources on this topic, some of which I used to gather the figures on internet use, data consumption and carbon emissions shown above. If you’d like to delve deeper here are the links:

We Are Social – Digital 2019: Global Internet Use Accelerates

Data Center Knowledge - The Data Center Dilemma: Is Our Data Destroying the Environment?

Information Age - A perfect storm: the environmental impact of data centres

Impakter - Hungry for Data, Starving the World

Independent - Global warming: Data centres to consume three times as much energy in next decade, experts warn

Nature - How to stop data centres from gobbling up the world’s electricity

The Shift Project – The Unsustainable Use of Online Video

Greenpeace – Click Clean Report

Greenpeace – Clicking Clean Virginia


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