The dashboard of the sitebuilder tool
Image credit: Fast Familiar

Digital climate action site builder

Fast Familiar have created a digital climate action site builder: a tool which lets you build a website which does not have a carbon footprint.

If you want to know why, keep reading. If you’re not interested in why and you might want to use the tool, skip down to FAQs.


These days, every artist, creative or organisation needs a web presence - it’s how we communicate what we do, demonstrate track record or legitimacy, and make ourselves available to be offered work.

Platforms like Squarespace, Wordpress and Wix have made it possible for people without coding skills to build their own site - which is great. Often these platforms have capacities or affordances built into them that we don’t use if we’re basically just looking to put a portfolio of work and contact details online. These affordances and other aspects of the off-the-peg solutions mean that the site is using more energy than it needs to - which means the server it sits on and the devices of the people accessing it are using more electricity than they need to as well. Currently not all of our electricity comes from renewable sources, so this means the site is contributing to climate change.

The impact of digital activity on climate change is often less obvious than something like driving a car or heating your house with a gas boiler because the activity takes place thousands of miles away, on server farms, many of which are in ‘Data Center Alley’ in Virginia, a state powered by fossil fuels.

You might be reading this thinking, ‘my tiny website is a drop in the ocean compared to aviation/ international shipping/ the activities of fossil fuel giants like BP and Shell’ or ‘a carbon footprint is a made-up thing, a concept invented by aforementioned fossil fuel giants to make climate change an individual problem, rather than something they take responsibility for.’ You’d be right on both counts.

FF absolutely recognises the need for structural change, regulation, investment in new technologies and other ‘big picture’ interventions. But that doesn’t mean we don’t also want to reflect on how the choices we make contribute to climate change - and how we could take climate action instead. (In one of the interviews we did for a past project, The Networked Condition, artist Memo Akten talks about his thoughts on individual responsibility in a far more articulate way than we could.)

So we’ve been working on a tool to let artists, creatives and small organisations build a website which doesn’t contribute to climate change. Why artists, creatives and small organisations? Well, partly because we got some money from Arts Council England (ACE) to do it and partly because we’re interested in supporting people who do their own website - people or organisations who are too small to have someone else building and looking after it. To develop our own design brief, we did workshops with people from theatre, dance, the visual arts, music, photography, film-making and digital art to understand what they wanted and needed from a website.

We had £8820 from Arts Council England to work on this project, which we spent paying people - ourselves and the artists we consulted with to develop and test the tool. The funding is gratefully received but it’s not a huge amount of money. This is a prototype and it will likely never be as shiny or slick as the off-the-peg platforms mentioned above, because we aren’t a big corporation. We’re releasing this first iteration of the tool as a work in progress, to see how it serves people’s needs and to identify how we might develop it further in future.

This work builds on some previous activity, a project called The Networked Condition which we did with Arts Catalyst and Abandon Normal Devices. There’s a website for that where you can check out interviews with artists about how they are taking climate action, and a free tool you can use to plan your own activities.


How have you made it zero-carbon?

In a nutshell, 100% of the electricity used in the process of building and hosting the site is from carbon neutral sources, e.g. wind or hydro-electric.

The website builder itself is really lightweight and can be hosted on micro-servers - these are smaller servers that use a fraction of the typical energy a server would use, so building and hosting the sites takes less electricity, plus we’ve chosen providers where 100% of that electricity is green.

We’ve also only used third-parties who are verifiably carbon neutral and have committed to sustaining neutrality or carbon negative practices. If you are interested, these are Hetzner and Microsoft.

It’s all very well getting your own house -or site- in order but you don’t have any control over what electricity the visitors to your site are using for their device and router. So the websites that the site builder makes are ‘static websites’, which means that visitors to the site use less bandwidth (and therefore less electricity) to view them. Static here doesn’t mean that you can’t have moving things and videos, it’s means your site is a bunch of code which doesn’t require fancy databases or a responsive server.

You say it’s a prototype - what happens if I put a load of work into using it to build a site and then you discontinue it, will I lose all my work?

Not at all, our site builder is built to be data-redundant, we just provide a user interface to make editing the files easier. Behind the scenes the site builder uses an open-sourced website framework called Jekyll, paired with Github Pages for hosting. If we discontinue the website builder, your website will continue to work on Github Pages and you can still edit files there.

Why is it free? Where’s the catch?

There isn’t one - honestly. It’s free because it should be and because we’re lucky enough to have an arts funder in this country who supported its creation.

What do FF get out of it?

Nothing. It’s something we wanted to make happen.

I’m really not a technical person, will I be able to use the tool?

We’ll be honest, it is more complicated to use than an off-the-peg solution - because we haven’t had the funding to build a slick user interface. BUT we are running workshops in using it, so you can come along to one of them and we will be there to support you build your site.

Are there tutorial videos and other support documents?

Yes there are, we will send you links to those when we set you up.

Will my site look like everyone else’s who uses the tool? I’m a unique iNdIViduAL you know.

No, the tool lets you use a range of different themed templates. If you’re more confident with coding, you can also significantly adapt these themes to suit your needs, but we hope that even without that, everyone should be able to find a theme that suits them.

How do I get to use the tool?

You send us an email telling us who you are. Then we’ll get you started. This isn’t a selection process, it’s to (try to) stop some big corporation getting hold of the site and making a load of money from it - that would go against everything we’re trying to achieve.

What if once I sign up, I decide I don’t want to use the tool?

Nothing. These things happen. You’re allowed to change your mind.

I’d like to support a workshop for artists in my area/ students I teach/ some other group - what do I do?

Excellent - get in touch!

I’m a funder and I’d like to support you to do some more work on this - what do I do?

We would be DELIGHTED to hear from you.

Digital Climate Action site builder is created using public funding from Arts Council England.

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