The keys to sustainable web design for every business
Online banking, electronic statements, applications replacing paper documents: the world is changing online. A major digital push has come from those worried about the depletion of finite resources: if we use less paper, fewer trees need to be felled. However, the footprint of our digital shift is, frankly, huge. Tom Greenwood, co-founder of UK web design agency Wholegrain Digital, shares that if the internet were a real country, it would be the sixth most polluting country in the world.
Greenwood and his team at B Corporation Certified have not only developed a mission to help customers build sustainable sites, but also to take action to create an internet that is good for people and the planet. âSustainable web design is an approach to web service design that puts the health of our home planet first; the core focus is on reducing carbon emissions and reducing energy consumption, âsaid Greenwood. âBusiness, design and technology can be part of the solution, but only if protecting the environment is at the heart of key decisions and not an afterthought. ”
In his new book, Sustainable website design, Greenwood takes the topic in more depth and explores how brands, businesses and corporations can take steps to mitigate the trend.
Christophe Marquis: Congratulations on your new book! What prompted you to write the book, and more generally, how did you get interested in this work?
Tom Greenwood: Part of the reason we founded a digital agency was in the belief that digital technology is part of the solution to the destruction of the environment caused by the manufacture, use and disposal of physical products. When we started our research, we discovered that digital technology itself has a very real physical impact on our natural world, with greenhouse gas emissions roughly equivalent to those of the global aviation industry and increasing at a rapid rate as our thirst for data increases.
It became clear that as a digital agency we need to take digital sustainability seriously and show leadership in trying to solve the problem in our own work.
Over the past few years, we have gradually encouraged our customers to move their websites to data centers with a commitment to renewable energy, with over 60% of them having made this change to date. We also aim to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency in the work we do for our customers.
The book I wrote shares and builds on this knowledge we have gained as a team and hopefully will help make sustainability a more common topic in the web industry.
Marquis: Can you describe the principles of sustainable web design?
Green wood : the Sustainable Web manifesto sets out six principles to consider in creating sustainable web products and services: clean, efficient, open, honest, refreshing and resilient.
The guiding principles are the use of clean energy from renewable sources where possible, and the pursuit of high levels of energy efficiency, which together keep carbon emissions to a minimum; these are supported by the four additional principles.
Making web services open helps ensure that knowledge about how to achieve sustainability spreads quickly, and honesty helps ensure not only that concrete action is taken, but also that the needs of web users as a whole. human beings are taken into account alongside the environment.
The concept of making web services regenerative encourages us to think about the purpose of web projects and their true intention: are they supporting initiatives and organizations that help heal our natural world or are they fueling the problem?
And Resilience recognizes that the internet is a key part of our modern civilization and that it must be designed to ensure that key services can function even under difficult circumstances such as natural disasters, which are becoming increasingly common due to of climate change.
By pursuing these principles, we can not only reduce the negative impact of digital technology, but we can also create a website that supports a healthy natural environment and is better for people as well.
Marquis: How can individual businesses change their IT practices to be more sustainable?
Green wood : There are many ways businesses can make their IT practices more sustainable, through hardware, software, and behavior. Hardware can have a huge impact not only in terms of manufacturing emissions, but also in terms of materials used in electronics and the fact that they tend to become waste after just a few years.
Choose equipment from manufacturers with a strong environmental policy and try to get refurbished machines whenever possible. Refurbished equipment has a fraction of the impact of a new purchase and can be just as or even more reliable as it undergoes more extensive testing.
For example, a MacBook Pro 13 “laptop has a lifetime carbon footprint of 185 kg of CO2, but 80% of this is in the initial manufacture and transport. Therefore, making it a company’s procurement policy that IT equipment should be purchased as refurbished rather than new when available can significantly reduce emissions from the manufacture of new machinery, as can policy specifying that equipment should be sent for repair rather than being replaced when possible. .
Software like email, video conferencing, and cloud services can consume a lot of power, but it’s hard to know how much. Look for suppliers who talk about energy efficiency and are committed to using renewable energy.
For example, many cloud and video conferencing software vendors use Amazon Web Services (AWS) for their behind-the-scenes infrastructure, but AWS has been much criticized by Greenpeace for its lack of serious action on climate change and its failure to deliver on its sustainability promises. On the other hand, Microsoft and Google, while not perfect, have demonstrated a strong commitment to good environmental practice. If this is your own software or website, make energy efficiency a goal for your design and development teams.
And behavior has an impact. As businesses, we can encourage staff to take actions such as cleaning up old files, minimizing unnecessary emails, and determining whether video is still required for calls.
Marquis: How do you see the evolution of IT and Cloud to become more sustainable / green?
Green wood : In the coming years, I expect to see increased pressure on the IT industry not only to improve energy efficiency, but also to be transparent about energy use and efficiency levels. I also hope to see more tech companies take responsibility for building new sources of renewable energy to match their own consumption. And I hope to see sustainability become a normal conversation between web designers and developers so that it can be tackled at its root.
Tools such as Website WebCarbon.com, created by my team, and Ecograder.com of Mightbybytes have been effective in helping to raise awareness of sustainability as an issue in the digital sector, but these are rare projects created by small, passionate teams using the limited data available in the industry. Going forward, we need more tech companies to be transparent about their digital emissions, the steps they are taking to reduce them, and work together to create improved tools to help the digital sector at large decarbonize.
Marquis: How does Wholegrain Digital work with its clients to make their websites more inclusive for users?
Green wood : Our mission is to create a website that is good for people and good for the planet. Fortunately, the strategies used to make the web better for the planet align well with those used to create a more inclusive web for people.
High efficiency levels provide faster load times for all users, which is good for the user experience, but more importantly, it makes more of the web accessible to less privileged users, who have connections that are slow and can only afford a limited amount of data. Likewise, efficient and well-organized code makes it easy to create web experiences that meet the highest accessibility standards.