If you do a google search for sustainable design, many fancy expressions pop up - such as green or eco design, circular design, upcycling, sustainable development goals and so on. However almost all of these are focused solely on design of physical products. Most of my career I’ve been working on digital products and to be honest there still is not much help and resources to be found regarding making your digital product more sustainable. So after giving few talks on the subject I decided to create a virtual board with all the tips and tricks and resources I found useful throughout the years of research.
Over the last couple of years sustainability successfully achieved the status of a buzzword. Many people and organisations use it, but not many have a good explanation of it. Personally I think of sustainability as acting in a way that causes the least harm possible to any system affected by these actions. Be it an ecosystem, community, society or the environment. And if I can do more good than harm - even better! And that’s basically the definition and understanding of sustainability I’ll be using on this site.
Why is it important?
Digital products are often super effective at what they do. We design them to be effective. They solve a lot of problems for our users and customers. They are (fairly) cheap to operate and distribute and they are everywhere. But in order to operate they also consume a huge amount of energy. Not just the energy to power the device you’re reading this on, but all the other infrastructure required to make it operate it as smoothly and effectively as you wish. All the servers and data centers that provide you with the streamed music that plays in your background, all the services that enable you to communicate and share you life stories with your close ones and all the more essential infrastructure that keeps the network and internet running, stable, operational and safe. If you combine all that energy you get a huge number. In fact, if the whole IT sector were a country it would be the 3rd biggest consumer of electricity on the whole planet! Unfortunately most of that power still comes from burning fossil fuels and contributes to adding more and more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere – speeding the rate of a climate change. Basically, every MB of data transferred or stored comes with a carbon footprint.
Why should I care?
Chances are that if you’re reading this you’re some kind of digital professional. Designer, developer, product person, researcher,… Basically you probably work in Tech. And that’s exactly why you should care. Chances are that you’re in some kind of position that can influence something in the digital product you’re working on. And if you care about sustainability or climate change that’s exactly where you can make probably the biggest (environmental) impact of your life. You’re in the position of power. Maybe just over a small part of a small section of a product, but still - it’s your domain. You might object that the change you can make is miniature and won’t make any big impact. But I promise you it’s not. One of the most amazing things digital Tech can do is scaling. It’s not complicated or expensive. to repeat something thousands and millions of times. So if you can make just a 0.001% impact on how much power or data some product uses, you’ll actually make a tremendous impact on the world. And that’s exactly the stuff you can do by using the tips and tricks and kind of thinking I describe on this site.