The sustainability issue now is more and more appearing on the agenda. Every industry tries to reduce excessive energy waste and the IT sphere is not an exception. It might not be common knowledge that our internet activity leaves a considerable carbon footprint. But there is a solution – sustainable design. In today’s article, we’re going to explore sustainable design meaning, why it’s so important, and how great UX can help you to save the planet.
“Global communication technologies will be responsible for more carbon emissions in 2025 than any country except China, India, and the United States.”– Internet Health Report 2018
Most people probably haven’t heard of sustainable design. However, sustainable web design is a crucial part of sustainability efforts. Basically, sustainable design definition lies in its ability to reduce harmful effects of users’ online activity by a range of methods. These include optimization, choosing green hosting, improving UX, and many more.
“Sustainable web design is an approach to web design that reduces the harmful effect of users’ online activity. Clean, efficient, open, resilient, and regenerative – are its main principles.”
In simple words, our website energy usage equals the amount of data downloaded. Therefore, there is a clear relationship between page size and carbon footprint. A great way to keep your site’s size in control is to avoid website obesity by setting the limit of its size.
These golden principles for environmental sustainability are crucial not only for big corporations. They also should be embraced by web designers and Internet users. Here are some methods to achieve this:
While reducing the size of your website, optimization also helps to increase the speed of its download. Besides being a basic principle of user retention, website speed is also a crucial UX deign sustainability factor. The more efficiently your web page loads, the less energy it consumes and the lower carbon footprint it leaves.
Here are some things to help you to measure your website’s performance optimization:
Creating a great website that doesn’t do much harm to the planet can seem challenging. But if you give it a try, you’ll see that it’s not that difficult. Here are some tips on how to achieve that:
1. Look for green hosting.
Being conscious of your hosting’s energy-intensity is essential for making your website sustainable. Some web hosting companies come up with carbon offsetting strategies to have a less negative impact on the environment and use renewable energy for providing their services. Check out the Green Web Foundation website to receive helpful info.
2. Use cloud server or go serverless
Cloud servers enable you to use your resources fairly while saving on operational and maintenance costs. Or you can choose the new cloud computing model – serverless. It enables you to host your servers on the cloud and, according to Amazon, “doesn’t require you to provision, scale, and manage any servers”.
Majority of the internet users are familiar with how cashing works: it temporarily stores a copy of the original content of a website. This means that it won’t be downloaded every time user visits your website unless you add new content.
4. SEO sustainability
Discoverability is how easily a user can find your website. Your site’s discoverability lies in its SEO optimization and its online visibility. The easier your website is to find the less energy user spends on its search and the less is the carbon footprint they leave.
The UX design of your website isn’t an only indispensable element of the overall user experience but is also a crucial element of its sustainability impact. Here are the reasons why:
Your website’s design sustainability depends on multiple factors: some are related to its usability and accessibility, but others are more linked to the efforts you can make as an organization. Therefore, designers need to be concerned with how the digital product they create is sustainable – from the beginning to the end.
“UX designers are in a unique position to create tools with sustainability at their heart by streamlining user workflows, minimizing information overload, and removing potential distractions that keep users from accomplishing tasks they set out to do” — Designing For Sustainability, Tim Frick, 2014
By making your website efficient and user-friendly, you help users spend less time and therefore less energy while browsing your website. Moreover, great UX increases your website’s discoverability we’ve mentioned earlier and helps users to find what they need without additional energy waste. But these are just a few things that sustainable design can achieve.
To measure whether your design is sustainable and is minimizing the negative environmental impact, you can ask yourself these questions:
Besides decreasing the negative impact of users’ Internet activity, UX designers can also influence their social responsibility. The right design strategy can raise environmental awareness and produce positive change. Finding green opportunities when building your product’s design isn’t that difficult and there are many ways to achieve that.
For example, if you design an eCommerce website, adding green shipping options, providing information about products’ sustainability, and instructions on how to recycle them can really make a difference.
Moreover, you can provide users with tools to help them live sustainably. For example, the app Think Dirty helps people to choose cosmetics products that do not only have a lesser negative impact on the planet but also don’t include harsh chemicals that can harm their health.
The sustainability principles should be well-introduced into the design process of any digital product and the environmental protection priorities should be defined and implemented at every stage:
Implementing sustainability into the business strategy has now transformed from a trend to a necessity. More and more big business players are making their impact on the battle with environmental problems resulted from human activities. So, who are they?
This year Microsoft and Accenture joined their efforts to reduce UK’s carbon footprint. Both companies are aiming at helping energy companies transform the energy system and decrease the cost of decarbonizing the supply and demand of electricity in the UK. Moreover, modernization through the cloud, open data, artificial intelligence (AI), digital twins are the main strategies of the company’s sustainability efforts.
Last year Google committed to operating completely carbon-free 24/7 by 2030. In their blog, the company’s CEO Sundar Pichai expressed their determination to eliminate Google’s carbon legacy entirely. They are aiming at achieving this through the purchase of high-quality carbon offsets. Google is the first big company to make such a commitment to operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy in all their data centers and campuses around the world.
Considering that a great deal of environmental impact is made by the online activity and the sustainability issues become only graver with each year, sustainable website design will surely develop and become popular with both huge companies and small start-ups.
Moreover, the legislation on international levels tries to regulate and reduce the negative effects of digital activity on the planet. For example, last year EU announced the Digital Agenda which sets the goal of carbon neutrality for telecommunications networks and data centers by 2030. Additionally, the Green deal which aims to make EU carbon-neutral by 2025 involves a strategy on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from digital technology activity by:
Furthermore, world leaders united by the Paris Agreement probably will strive for information transparency, meaning revealing the data on digital activity’s impact on the environment to promote sustainability awareness. Considering all these steps, sustainability design will become an efficient tool to contribute to sustainability efforts and make users aware of environmental problems.
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