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Climate devastation is a human-made problem – as designers in the digital space, what can we do about it? A lot, actually. Designers can make small changes in their day-to-day work that can have a big impact on lightening our load on the web, and mother nature.
Tyson Read, Director of Product Management, and product designer Michael Weimann believe the first step toward better and more sustainable web design is equipping yourself with the knowledge and practice you can pass on to others. They are passionate about building sustainable digital products and share four actionable ways to make your design work more sustainable:
They also believe the sustainable web design space is ripe for innovation. “Creating a digital experience that directly responds to climate impacts not only helps address the issue, it also makes it feel more immediate to anyone visiting that site,” Read said. “It’s a phenomenal example of good design.”
Apply design principles and best practices to the world’s most urgent challenges.
If you focus on one thing, being mindful of how you manage images could have the biggest positive environmental impact. Images and videos take more energy to transmit and view than text. A report by Cisco estimates that today video traffic represents 82% of all consumer internet traffic, which is up from 73% in 2017.
Innovating on the weight images have on the web is an online magazine by ClimateAction.tech called The Branch. Their site is designed to react to the amount of carbon the electrical grid is producing. The dynamic site design adapts to be less energy-intensive by loading images in black and white or skipping them entirely when there are a lot of fossil fuels being used. Read said they’re thinking about design in ways he never considered.
Here are some tips on how to reduce and compress images to lighten their carbon footprint:
Use design principles to strengthen the relationship between business and society.
Danny Van Kooten is a Dutch programmer who made a big impact by cleaning up his code. He created a Mailchimp plug-in for WordPress and then in 2020 he refactored his plug-in to send 20 KB less data for every use. That isn’t much, but at the scale of 2 million sites using Mailchimp, it adds up. He estimates that by cutting 20 KB of code, he’s reducing the world’s monthly CO2 output by 59,000 kilograms. That’s almost the same as flying from New York to Amsterdam and back 85 times.
Another option is using Salesforce to help you get to net zero operations. “If you design and build on the Salesforce platform, our operations are net zero,” Weimann said. “It means we source what renewable energy we can and purchase clean energy elsewhere to offset what we can’t source in real-time. The goal is 24/7 renewable energy.” That said, plenty of designers work on projects that use custom code outside of Salesforce where it’s harder to offset your carbon footprint. Even if you’re net zero, it’s always better to shrink your carbon footprint and avoid needing to offset in the first place.
Ways to reduce energy use with less code:
Use Net Zero Cloud to gain critical insights into your company’s carbon footprint.
Since the internet was invented in 1983, it has gotten heavy with excessive code, oversized images, unnecessary pages, and so much more. A broad estimate that includes all data centers, networking gear, and connected devices put the total carbon footprint of the internet at 2% of global emissions. That’s roughly the same contribution as the aviation industry’s fuel emissions or emissions from entire countries like Canada or France. Color plays a role because many of the screens on our smartphones, laptops, and TVs light each pixel individually.
Beyond the drain on our battery and the environment, the accessibility of your color choices can also have a negative impact on users.
Here are tips for making low-energy and accessible color choices:
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Where you source your typefaces can make a difference in your carbon footprint. System fonts are native to devices, which means they load quickly and take less energy to operate. Webfonts are loaded from the internet, but depending on where they are hosted can reduce their negative environmental impact.
Michael shares ways to reduce energy use with webfonts:
Use simple tools and strategies to bring sustainable design into your work.
When it comes to sustainable web design, the more we know, the better our world and user experiences will be. Every action matters. You could start by picking up the book Sustainable Web Design by Tom Greenwood and sharing your learnings with others. You can also educate yourself with Trailhead modules, books, and sustainable design tools. We’re all on this journey together, which means small actions at scale can make a big difference.
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