Is Dark Mode a Proven Step Toward Digital Sustainability?

To make our online businesses more eco-friendly, we can’t ignore our digital contributions to global warming. The data centers that keep the internet running and store our texts, photos, videos, music, apps, and other software use a lot of energy for us to enjoy constant access to our data. The path to digital sustainability requires a lot of learning and commitment to better practices.

One simple step in this direction you might have seen lately is the push for website designs with a dark mode. The claim: websites with darker backgrounds use less energy. Better for the environment and better for your device’s battery.

If you’re considering redesigning your website with a darker background, there are a few things you should know about how dark mode affects energy usage and accessibility.

Is dark mode more energy-efficient?

Depending on the type of screen a site is viewed on, dark mode can reduce the amount of energy used–but not always. LCD screens see no difference, while OLED screens do.

What’s the difference? LCD screens have a single backlight, so the light is always on no matter what colors are on the screen. On the other hand, OLED screens feature a tiny LED lightbulb for each individual pixel that only lights up when needed. This is why OLED screens use less electricity when displaying dark colors. You can check if your device has an OLED screen by checking OLED-info’s list.

On an OLED screen, black uses the least amount of energy while white uses the most. That said, blue pixels use about 25% more energy than red and green. If you’re choosing new colors to represent your brand, consider opting for a more energy-efficient color palette.

Does dark mode make sites more accessible?

Sometimes, but not always. On average, dark text on light backgrounds is easier to read. But it’s not true for all users. Finding the right combination of low eye strain and high color contrast is difficult and depends on your target audience. It’s best to offer users the option to toggle between light and dark to suit their preferences. Before picking one or the other, learn more about the accessibility claims made about dark mode.

In 2020, Nielsen Norman Group published a review on whether dark mode had benefits for users. The final conclusion suggested users with normal or corrected-to-normal vision had a better visual performance with light mode, while some people with conditions such as cataracts had a better experience with dark mode.

Even so, the review strongly recommends users be allowed to switch to dark mode for three reasons: “(1) there may be long-term effects associated with light mode; (2) some people with visual impairments will do better with dark mode; and (3) some users simply like dark mode better.” It goes on to say “applications meant for long-form reading (such as book readers, magazines, and even news sites) should offer a dark-mode feature.”

Unfortunately, not every site has the built-in capability to offer a dark-mode option. For WordPress users, there is a dark mode plugin you can install. The only catch is you either have to use WordPress.org or pay for WordPress.com’s business or e-commerce plans to use plugins.

What’s the point?

The internet contributes to global warming due to the large amounts of electricity used by data centers, networks, and individual user devices. Reducing waste and recycling can only do so much to address the problem. If we want to commit to more sustainable practices, we have to embrace them at every opportunity.

Published by Amanda Surowitz

Amanda Surowitz is a storyteller by trade. She writes food and travel articles, business profiles, and science fiction/fantasy. Using her years of experience as a journalist, public relations writer, and digital content specialist for websites and social media, she simplifies the basics of branding and marketing for creatives.

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