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Sustainable Web Design by Tom Greenwood

Are you curious about sustainable web design and how you can help your clients achieve a new level of sustainability, then “Sustainable Web Design” by Tom Greenwood might be an interesting book for you. In this article, we will talk a bit about the book and the issues mentioned in it. At the bottom of this article, you will find a short Q&A with Tom Greenwood and a link to ABookApart where you can buy the book.

What is a sustainable web design and why do we need it?

Since you found this article you probably know a little about sustainable web design or maybe you are interested in learning how you can apply it to your website. It is no secret the internet is an enormous polluter and if it was a country it would be the 6th worst worldwide, but why does the internet pollute?

The internet causes carbon dioxide to be released into the air every single time you use the internet. The device you are visiting the internet from is using electricity which can come from coal or non-renewable energy sources. Also, the website you visit requires electricity to run their servers and even your router and the router access points between you and the website's server require electricity. As you can see it is a lot of devices to use electricity every single time you visit a website and now imagine that over half the population of the earth is using the internet daily and that there are over a billion websites. The numbers are sky-high but luckily we can do something to lower these numbers.

Through sustainable web design and the use of green renewable energy in our data centers, we can lower the current carbon dioxide emissions from the internet. We probably won't be able to remove them completely, but we can lower the number significantly. You see, daily our internet speeds become faster and our devices become better and therefore we automatically start creating websites that demand more power. If we look 5 years back, websites would be more simple and with fewer animations, but today we need to have animations, full-page images, one-page web apps with hundreds of packages. The list is long, but long story short. When our devices get better and our internet speed becomes faster we build heavier websites which in the end causes even more pollution. If we instead of building heavier and more demanding websites start to build lighter and more sustainable we will not only lower the emissions, but we would also make the internet more accessible to people in areas with low bandwidth. Believe it or not, there are still many places around the world with only 3G and when we make websites heavier it becomes harder for them to access the internet.

The book Sustainable Web Design by Tom Greenwood is very inspiring and it addresses these issues and gives you answers to what we can do to make our situation better. We recommend this book to every web designer, web developer, and even website owner cause only together can we make a difference. As Tom mentions in his book ”Sustainable web design shouldn’t be a selling point given to clients, it should be given as standard without mentioning it”. In the book, you will find easy and useful tools that you can use to make your website more sustainable and you will find answers to questions you might have regarding sustainability.

Q&A with Tom Greenwood

We have been lucky to get in touch with Tom Greenwood and we asked him a few questions about his book and his beliefs for the future.

1. What made you go into sustainable web design?

We had always been committed to being a sustainable business and had believed that the digital products that we created had no environmental impact. However, after monitoring our own environmental impact for company operations for many years, I eventually became uncomfortable with the assumption that our products had zero impact when we did not have any evidence to prove it. This led us down the rabbit hole of trying to quantify the impact of the websites that we create by reading all of the peer-reviewed articles available at the time. This showed us that the internet is not "virtual" at all, but a physical system with a significant and growing environmental impact. At that point, I knew that as a digital agency committed to sustainability, we must find ways to design out this impact and find ways to make websites more sustainable. You can read more about Wholegrain Digital at 

2. Do you believe that we in 2030 have a sustainable internet run by renewable energy?

I'm hopeful that it can happen because a lot can change in 9 years and I am seeing a change in the industry begin to accelerate. However, currently, Google is the only big tech company with a commitment to match its energy usage with renewable supplies on the same grid 24/7 by 2030, which implies that the rest of the industry will lag behind them. I think that by 2030 most internet services will be purchasing some form of renewable energy credits equivalent to 100% of their energy usage, but it will take a few years beyond that before the electrons flowing into their services can truly be said to be 100% renewable.

3. How do you balance sustainability with clients' wishes and expectations?

What we have found is that the pursuit of sustainability in web projects tends to support the client's wishes and expectations more than hinder them. For example, core aspects of sustainable web design are to streamline user journeys and design out waste, which creates web services that are easier to use, faster to load, rank better in search engines, and are easier to access for people on slow connections and devices. There are occasions when the client desires content and features that are inherently energy-intensive, and in those cases, we need to validate whether they are actually required, and if so, how we can optimize them to keep their energy impact as small as possible.

4. You mention in your book that sustainability alone doesn’t sell well. Do you have good advice on how to implement sustainability into your sales pitch?

I have found in my experience that many people are very happy to purchase more environmentally friendly products and services, but that they see it as a nice to have rather than an essential requirement. While I do feel that this is something of a sad reflection of our culture, we need to work with the culture we have to make positive change. Therefore, my advice is to not just highlight the benefits to the environment, but highlight how the sustainable approach and features actually support the organization's commercial goals, for example through better search rankings or improved user experience for customers.

5. Will we be seeing more material from you in the future?

Absolutely. I write regular articles about various aspects of sustainable web design on the Wholegrain Digital blog and I have also written a chapter for an upcoming eBook on sustainable e-commerce, so watch this space!

Get your copy of Sustainable Web Design

If you are interested in reading the book Sustainable Web Design by Tom Greenwood then you can find it at ABookApart via this link


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