What's Your Site's Ecograde?

To many, the Internet is just a vast array of imaginary, non-tangible wires that cross and somehow bring up their favorite websites. For this reason, it's easy to assume that most Web users don't know about the data centers that make the Web work and how they can take as much electricity as small towns to do their jobs. 

In fact, last September, The New York Times reported that the data centers powering the Internet use an estimated 30 billion watts of electricity, and that the U.S. is responsible for one-third of that. That's the same amount of electricity it takes to power 30 nuclear power plants.

For environmentally conscious businesses owners, this means they can't overlook their websites' carbon footprints, meaning in-office recycling programs, albeit important, aren't going to make a resource-heavy business green anytime soon.

Adjusting websites in the name of sustainability, however, can help lighten the massive load of energy it takes to power the Internet, according to Tim Frick, the founder of Mightybytes, a full-service creative firm out of Chicago. 

For this reason, Mightybytes developed a Web-based app called Ecograder that helps enterprises assess and improve the carbon footprints of their websites. Anyone can grab their Ecograde here (see WebsiteMagazine.com's grade on the right). Frick and his team were curious to see how the websites of top companies would perform, so they ran the Fortune 500 through Ecograder. To see how your own website stacks up, review the methodology at the end of this article. The top five most sustainable websites are Seaboard Corporation, Terex, 3M, LiveNation and Eaton, while, according to Mightybytes research, the five least sustainable websites are Aramark, Domtar, Mattel, Morgan Stanley and United Technologies. (Update added Oct. 2, 2013: Domtar reports this ecograde is out of date. Domtar was acknowledged to have green hosting and its score jumped to 47, which puts the company "far and away from the bottom five least sustainable" according to a company rep.)

So, what can small and medium-sized businesses learn from Fortune 500's greenest websites?

"Switching to a green hosting server will shrink the carbon footprint of your website the most," said Frick. "Green Web hosts are either powered by 100 percent renewable energy (mainly wind or solar) or they invest in renewable energy certificates (RECs) to offset the energy consumed by their servers. It's also worth the investment to hire a Web designer who has sustainability in mind when making adjustment to your site. It's fairly simple to optimize your site for mobile, and Flash sites aren't usually necessary to showcase your company's work online. All of those simple adjustments can boost your Ecograder score significantly."