Towards a Carbon-Efficient Digital World: How The Website Carbon Calculator Aims For A More Sustainable Web
In Episode 46 of MING Labs’ podcast Lost In Transformation, we talk to Tom Greenwood, Managing Director at Wholegrain Digital, and the creator of the website carbon calculator.
Listen to this episode to learn more about the impact and waste of digital products, the mindset shift towards a more sustainable web, and what first steps we can take towards a carbon efficient digital world.
3 Main Takeaways From This Episode
01Applying a zero waste mindset on digital products: Delivering experiences that are better for users and the environment. Being one of the early adopters in the field of greening the internet, Tom’s biggest learning from his journey of creating the website carbon calculator is around the huge amount of waste that comes with digital products. “Because they’re virtual, you don’t really think about the concept of waste. […] But what I’ve learned is that there’s vast amounts of wasted data in nearly every website, nearly every application. There’s code in there that doesn’t really do anything useful, there’s technologies that are just inherently inefficient, people are designing content that got a lot of information that doesn’t need to be there.”
Tom refers to waste here as anything that doesn’t add value to the user, that is consuming data and energy but doesn’t really serve anybody’s interest. “Looking at digital design more through a zero waste mindset of saying ‘How can we actually do the most with the least?’ And really focus on delivering the user’s needs with the minimum amount of code, the minimum amount of server resources, the minimum amount of media.” Through the lens of a zero waste mindset, we can create a win-win-win situation where we design better user experiences, deliver better commercial outcomes while also creating a better web for the environment. (Listen from 23:38 min)
02Making environmental friendly websites mainstream: Creating synergy between environmental and commercial goals. “One of our early mistakes was assuming that people would care about the environmental aspect,” laughs Tom. While some people do, most people pay for a website to achieve their commercial goals, not to save the environment. “We had to learn that we need to sell this to people in their own language and focus on the things that they care about. So that meant actually seeing where there was a synergy between the environmental aspects and serving their commercial goals. And there are those synergies, that you can actually create better user experiences.”
It’s important to mention that environmentally friendly web products need to be just as good or better from a user point of view than a standard web product. “Pared back design could be great, but if you go too far and make it feel like an eco website, it’s not going to appeal to anybody. […] So what we need is the mainstream to be more environmentally friendly rather than for eco-friendly to be a niche.” Wholegrain Digital created an eco-friendly and energy efficient digital design for their old website but saw their leads and sales plummeting. “That was a great learning experience. But it came from making that mistake that if you design for that niche of people who just care about the environment and don’t care what it looks like and that are not too worried about functionality, then it’s not going to work.” (Listen from 28:40 min)
03 Designing for a brighter future: Concrete steps we can take to get started on a carbon-efficient digital world. With an increasing awareness towards an environmentally friendly web, we wanted to learn more about hands-on tips on raising awareness and getting started — for our clients, and for ourselves. “There are two things that sit together. One is to actually make some time to start having the conversation with the clients. Just introduce them to the topic of the fact that digital products consume energy and that results in carbon emissions.” Give them a 30 minute presentation to introduce them to the topic and help them understand that this is a significant issue that needs to be tackled.
“The second half of that conversation is to show them how tackling that issue is going to serve their commercial interests. Looking at websites, for example: If you make things more efficient, you make things faster which improves user experience. You get better conversion rates, you can get better search engine rankings, you can reduce your server costs because you’ve made things a lot more efficient.” Highlight the many commercial benefits that come as a result of looking through this lens of efficiency. Both dedicating time to educate your clients about this topic, but also tying that back into the things that they really care about. “So that they can see that them taking interest in this topic is going to not just be good for the world, but it’s going to be good for them.” (Listen from 39:45 min)