Web Sustainability Guidelines: Getting Started

The Web Sustainability Guidelines (WSG) are a W3C community draft report first published on October 10th, 2023.

The current version 1.0 is quite extensive with 93 guidelines, each of which includes success criteria, info on the benefits of each guideline, help for compliance reporting, an example and/or links to resources.

So where to begin? Consider starting with these 21 guidelines that have the highest impact and lowest or medium effort in the categories:

User-Experience Design

Take a More Sustainable Approach to Image Assets

Of all the data which comprises the largest over-the-wire transfer rates within the average website or application, images are usually those which are responsible due to their quantity and usefulness. As such, doing all you can to reduce their size and unnecessary loading will be beneficial for sustainability.

High Impact, Low Effort

Avoid Unnecessary or an Overabundance of Assets

It's great to have a pretty looking website or application, but to ensure a sustainable design, it's important to avoid cluttering up the interface with too many visuals (which aren't necessary to the content). Keeping a clean design will reduce website rendering, and thereby emissions.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Avoid Manipulative Patterns

Manipulating the visitor into doing things you want them to is a short-term gain, long-term loss tactic tool. It's ethically bad, unsustainable, and should be avoided at all costs.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Take a More Sustainable Approach to Media Assets

Video and audio-heavy websites are often those which can have significant sustainability costs in terms of storage and carbon intensity for viewers who have to process the media with their devices to watch them (draining batteries). Optimizing such assets as much as possible is critical for a sustainable product or service.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Create a Stakeholder-Focused Testing & Prototyping Policy

The organization has policies and practices in place to incorporate stakeholder-focused testing and prototyping into its product development cycles.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Incorporate Compatibility Testing Into Each Release-Cycle

Compatibility is a critical part of the sustainability mindset and should be prioritized through all products and services. If individuals wish to use older devices (or cannot upgrade due to cost), or do not wish to upgrade as frequently, it will reduce the amount of e-waste which enters the system. If something doesn't work, it's also likely to result in visitors suffering a wasted effort or are refused access to your service (and thereby emitting further emissions).

High Impact, Medium Effort

Web Development

Ensure Your Solutions Are Accessible

Not everyone can access services equally, being sustainable is also about being accessible, fair, ethical, and ensuring that your product or service doesn't discriminate. As such, ensuring your website complies with best-practices and relevant laws whilst meeting the needs of your visitors is critical as well as good business.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Rigorously Assess Third-Party Services

Whether advertising, chatbots, maps, or other tooling; outsourcing your service to a third-party provider may be potentially useful in certain scenarios in reducing design or development time and redundancy (which can be a win for sustainability). Third-party services, however, come with issues, such as the lack of control over emissions, and they often can potentially suffer from latency and large file sizes which may not exist if you self-hosted or created the material.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Use Beneficial JavaScript and Its APIs

When new best practices or if beneficial scripting guidance exists which will improve the visitor experience, following it should be of the highest priority (only using scripts ethically should be promoted).

High Impact, Medium Effort

Hosting, Infrastructure And Systems

Compress Your Files

Every file will take up a certain amount of room on a server's hard drive, and this data will need to be sent across-the-wire to each visitor. Doing so will consume resources, but by using compression algorithms you can shrink each file to make its journey less impactful.

High Impact, Low Effort

Choose a Sustainable Hosting Provider

In addition to reducing the environmental impacts of a website, choose a hosting service that mitigates the remaining impacts. To make sure of this, there are many criteria to look for.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Automate To Fit the Needs

Any tasks, especially repetitive, that can be automated should be automated (compilation, deployment, tests, etc.) to reduce time at the computer being wasted by people.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Business Strategy And Product Management

Follow a Product Management and Maintenance Strategy

The organization has clearly defined governance policies around how it manages and maintains digital products and services over time.

High Impact, Low Effort

Establish if a Digital Product or Service Is Necessary

Ensure that the product or service you are creating offers value to visitors and doesn't duplicate existing functionality (without bringing something new to the table) as this redundancy wastes digital and physical resources.

High Impact, Low Effort

Implement Sustainability Onboarding Guidelines

The organization has clear onboarding and training processes that include ESG policies and practices with explicit references to digital sustainability and responsibility. Ensure that onboarding utilizes a "green by default" process and avoids being an opt-in procedure. This applies equally at an organizational level and to visitors and consumers of your products and services.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Create One or More Impact Business Models

An Impact Business Model enables an organization to incorporate specific impact initiatives into one or more business models for generating revenue, often making them "green by default" and folding impact initiatives into the organization's operating system. Moreover, being able to calculate the return on investment in terms of sustainability your product or service will bring is important to identifying whether it poses a net-positive or net-negative effect on the environment.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Share Economic Benefits

The organization shares the economic benefits of its digital products, services, policies, and programs.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Promote Responsible Data Practices

The organization has devised and implemented a responsible data strategy that prioritizes data privacy and promotes more ethical uses of data, including disposal and data sustainability practices.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Promote and Implement Responsible Emerging Technology Practices

The organization has devised and implemented responsible policies related to artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and related emerging technologies.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Include Organizational Philanthropy Policies

For-profit organizations have clear philanthropy policies and practices in place to help non-profit organizations build digital capacity and acumen while also engaging their own teams in meaningful work that promotes shared learning and stretch goals.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Include E-Waste, Right-To-Repair, and Recycling Policies

The organization addresses e-waste, right-to-repair, recycling, and related practices in its operations.

High Impact, Medium Effort

Source: Web Sustainability Guidelines JSON API