Websites and online stores with WordPress that are CO₂ optimized? Our partner agency ecombee does just that. As a particularly sustainable web host, the topic of "green" WordPress is close to our hearts. That's why we asked Patrick Losert from ecombee how web projects can be planned more ecologically.
Patrick, you design CO₂-optimized websites and online stores with WordPress. What are the key levers in your work to make the results more sustainable?
In the last 12 years that I have been working with WordPress, I have been able to gain a lot of experience with a wide variety of setups. From small websites and market validation landing pages to large community, SaaS and online store solutions. Some worked more and some less well in terms of performance, usability, integration and maintainability.
During this time, however, performance and maintainability became the most important issues. And performance and easy maintenance are usually accompanied by less traffic and server utilization, which in turn means less energy consumption of the infrastructure, i.e. a positive effect in terms of CO₂ emissions (simply put, the whole construct is of course much more complex).
More performance does not automatically mean less CO₂
A lot of tricks can be played with performance, which doesn't really reduce energy consumption, such as loading scripts afterwards. In my opinion, the topic of maintainability also has an impact on CO₂ emissions, as a high maintenance effort and many tests after updates and adjustments naturally also require more resources (technical and human).
Save CO₂ emissions with WordPress
So if we optimize performance and maintainability as much as possible, this is already half the way to CO₂-optimized solutions. We then looked at the remaining bottlenecks and adapted our setups accordingly. The central levers are definitive:
- Using a high-performance WordPress theme . We rely on GeneratePress 99 percent of the time, as the integration with GenerateBlocks is perfect and covers 90 percent of the required components.
- Use as few WordPress plugins as possible.
- The plugins that are used must be programmed and integrated with high performance.
- Optimize all images and graphics automatically.
- All stylesheets and scripts should also be optimized and only loaded where they are needed.
- A clean CDN integration.
- A very good and high-performance WordPress host like Raidboxes 😉
Here is an insight into WordPress themes and plugins that we use in most of our projects:
- GeneratePress, GP Premium, GenerateBlocks, GenerateBlocks Pro, FluentForms Pro, Postman SMTP, Perfmatters, ACF Pro
- The plugin LazyBlocks, with which we have developed various own Gutenberg blocks and integrations
- In complex scenarios, we use Crocoblock's JetEngine, which we have modified to make it more performant
We also use the above setup for WooCommerce stores, together with Mollie as a payment solution. We supplement the online stores on customer request with specially developed modules and our GP Child theme, as with WooCommerce plugins an overhead of code can arise quite quickly, which we thus avoid.
Alternatives to complex WordPress setups
Do your customers have to do without individual features or particularly elaborately designed websites in order for you to achieve your goal? How do you deal with customer requests that generate a lot of traffic and load?
Nobody has to do without anything that is absolutely necessary. Every element can be optimized down to a minimum of traffic. However, I also see it as part of our consulting service to point out "unnecessary gimmicks" and provide alternatives.
However, our goal is always 100% achieved as long as we optimize elements, as even a saving of a few kilobytes on high traffic sites has a real effect. This means that even a very "CO₂-intensive website" with lots of images and videos has a positive effect with our setup, as significantly more energy would be consumed without optimization.
In addition to scalable hosting, we also use our CDN integration and worker scripts to handle high traffic sites. This distributes the load and saves resources. I am therefore all the more looking forward to the planned new Raidboxes infrastructure 🙂
WordPress plugins and themes as levers
WordPress plugins can also be developed sustainably, see this interview. Do you also want to use your own plugins, features or themes in the future?
Danny van Kooten, who you interviewed, is a great guy. It's definitely worth reading the article. I have adopted his approach in the past and used my own plugins and modules to ensure performance. And to only load the scripts and code that are actually needed.
So far, in my opinion, the design and features of most developers plugins have had a higher priority than performance and resource savings. But I hope that changes 🙂
Since we want to achieve the greatest possible effect in CO₂ optimization without putting a lot of resources into maintaining the code of WordPress plugins and themes, we do not publish our plugins and modules. Serving the masses and setups with them does not seem scalable and maintainable enough to us. We will therefore continue to use our previously developed WordPress solutions only in our setups.
When we carry out CO₂ audits and optimizations on other setups, we work with the resources and options available there, as very few customers are willing to have their site recreated.
We are currently working on a solution that not only optimizes WordPress pages, but can also be used with any web stack. This will give us a much more sustainable impact. And without having to pay too much attention to special software.
The CO₂ audit
You offer a performance and CO₂ audit before a project. How exactly do you go about this and what tools do you use?
Our audit is aimed at existing websites, online stores and web apps. We are currently in the process of automating the process. First, we use a combination of Webpagetest, CO2.js, Wappalyzer and the Firefox Performance Profiler to create a comprehensive audit report from the data. The report then shows in detail where and how much optimization potential there is.
We then compare these findings with our existing optimization processes and solutions and use them to create an optimization plan. In some cases, we also create audits of web stacks that we are not yet familiar with and then learn how these can be optimized.
This optimization plan results in a recommendation for action and the estimated scope for optimization. We offer this optimization plan to our customers, either carried out by us or by their own team. Once the optimization has been implemented, we check the whole thing again.
We offer our weekly or monthly audit package to ensure that the whole thing is not just a one-off, but continues on an ongoing basis. As the name suggests, we carry out an audit at recurring intervals. And if all criteria from the optimization plan remain fulfilled, our customers receive our CO₂ Optimized seal.
We thought long and hard about whether to create a seal and ultimately decided to do so. Less as a marketing effect and more as proof that continuous optimization is taking place and that CO₂ emissions are really being saved.
Getting started with sustainable web development
What advice do you have for WordPress developers: How do you get started with sustainable web development?
There are great information pages like:
In addition, every person should deal with the topic of CO₂ emissions. It is sometimes very complex and opaque, but I think it is essential to understand how web development relates to CO₂ emissions.
With regard to the software development itself, we recommend creating a concept from the outset and checking what is really needed. For example, which frameworks or other resources from third parties are actually necessary. It is better to simply develop a module yourself than to load a powerful framework for it. Although this initially involves more programming effort, it results in enormous savings and added value for the mass of potential customers, in line with Danny van Kooten's principle. What's more, you always learn something new when you program something yourself.
Then above all: write clean and high-performance code, there are already plug-ins for development environments such as CodeSniffer, Clean Code etc. for this. And if possible, use caching. But above all: have the courage to make mistakes. And also perseverance. It's better to have a small impact and learn from it than no impact and hide it. We experience this ourselves every day 🙂
How did your special business idea come about and what feedback do you get?
The business idea came about in the course of the last major project at a start-up we worked for. We had to build a multi-vendor marketplace in B2C and the topic of sustainability was also at the forefront of the technology. The result of this, coupled with the inner motivation to help shape sustainable change on the web, then led to our business model.
However, the basis for everything has been with us for all the years that we have been working on performance and sustainability. The time was right for us, let's put it this way 🙂
So far, we have received a lot of positive feedback on our service and the team, but also criticism on individual topics, such as the transparency of CO₂ emissions. We are very pleased about both. On the one hand, the fact that our products are self-explanatory and that we are working with our customers to make their future on the web more sustainable. On the other hand, we also appreciate the criticism that allows us to measure ourselves and constantly improve.
The topic of transparency is so multifaceted, complex and requires so much education and content that we can't tackle it all at once. We know that we can't get everything completely right from the start. But here too, we are grateful for all the criticism and suggestions. And yet we are proud of what we have already achieved. Our motto is to take small but steady and sustainable steps towards our goal.
Green WordPress hosting
Why do you work with Raidboxes ? How specifically do we help you to implement sustainable WordPress projects?
We work with Raidboxes because, in addition to your sustainability in the company and green hosting, you take a lot of work off our hands. For example, in terms of creating pages, server configuration, caching, backups, performance, security and WordPress configuration.
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In addition, your servers are located in Germany, which is an important criterion for most customers, especially in B2B. Your support is some of the best we've experienced so far, which is a great help to us. So for us, all of this forms a great overall package that is also sustainable.
A few words about you and your team?
I have been traveling the world as a digital nomad for several years now and have been able to get to know so many different cultures, people and projects in this way, which fills me with gratitude. Close friendships and collaborations have developed on this long journey. I am always happy to be able to shape the here and now and the future together with these people.
A very important experience that I was able to make was that each of these people follows their own path in life and that change is part of it. That rigid structures don't work for many people and that professional freedom is intrinsically motivating. The workload of the individual people in our projects is also always different.
That's why we decided to work in a team of independent people under one brand, so that agility and creativity are not lost and everyone contributes as needed. I am a big fan of this type of team, as we have very few conflicts and each member of the team can follow their own "why" without losing creativity and productivity.
This all sounds very philosophical, but for us it is an important cornerstone for successful collaboration. I am grateful and proud to be part of this team.