Let's Talk Digital Sustainability

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Let's Talk Digital Sustainability

The dictionary defines ‘Sustainability’ as the “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”.

As a digital designer, developer, product manager or tech team member, you may be wondering what this has to do with you? Surely, as digital workers, our impact on the environment is wholly positive? Less paper, less risk, more efficiency, automation and better output must be good for the planet…

To a degree, this is the case. We know that a huge amount of carbon is created by offline activities like travel, food waste, factories and unethical manufacturing. Digitising offline activities and processes can save time and improve efficiency in the long-term, and these are key pillars of sustainability. But the digital world is not exempt from carbon footprints. In fact, the process of designing websites, coding, streaming and engaging online all need to be considered in terms of their impact on the planet.

If you’re surprised by this revelation, you’re not alone. At Digital Detox, we’re guiding our clients on a journey towards becoming more energy efficient. Our new ‘Detoxing’ series covers various aspects of digital design and development, transformation and strategy, and how we can all undergo a ‘detox’ to make our practices more sustainable.

In this instalment of the Detoxing series, we’re focusing on the overarching subject of digital sustainability; breaking down what it means and how to get started.

Understanding digital sustainability

It sounds like a mouthful, but the concept of digital sustainability is actually quite simple.

Excess Carbon = bad.

There are different types of carbon; physical and digital:

Physical carbon is created as a by-product of manufacturing, selling, consuming and disposing of material stuff.

Digital carbon is created as a by-product of creating and consuming experiences online in ways that are wasteful, inefficient or misaligned to the end-user’s goals.

Whether carbon is created from a tangible, physical source, or a visible interaction online, it has the same effect on the planet. It makes it warmer, contributes to climate change, melts the polar ice caps and eventually decimates the planet.

We’ve already seen that once digital workers and technology leaders discover that their actions increase their carbon footprints and harm the planet, they want to take action. Now we want to provide a clear and tangible overview of where and how to do just that.

Which digital actions create carbon?

Every digital designer, developer, product owner and tech team member has one thing in common; we all rely on an internet-enabled device in order to do our day jobs.

With Covid-19 forcing many digital workers to move remotely, we’ve seen even greater adoption of digital tools over physical interactions:

  • Your laptop requires electricity to power it
  • We connect to the internet to create and share digital content
  • Cloud-based services depend entirely on the internet to work
  • Mobile phones require a data connection to access the internet
  • Zoom calls have replaced physical meetings, meaning increased consumption of power and internet connection.

To become more digitally sustainable, we need to consider all elements of our digital practices; from the everyday activities, we undertake online, to the more strategic aspects of creating digital experiences for clients and end-users.

Digital sustainability quick wins

The good news is that, as a digital designer, developer or other tech team member, there are some simple actions you can take RIGHT NOW to become more energy efficient:

For designers:

  • Re-evaluate your design goals and KPIs to make sure you’re designing for efficiency, not stickiness
  • Question the purpose of every element of your designs so that no assets are superfluous, unnecessary or wasteful
  • Learn all you can about sustainable digital design practices, especially with regard to user experience and user interactions.

For developers:

  • Develop experiences that focus on improving speed across devices and cater to varying levels of connectivity. Be mindful of users who may not be able to load images, videos and data sets as quickly as others
  • Reuse components wherever possible, but similarly, try to do away with outdated components that slow down the site or don’t have a purpose
  • Work closely with designers to optimise user experiences to be as efficient and valuable as possible. Research and apply the best technologies that deliver on efficiency
  • Review your existing platforms and apps to see where savings can be made on speed, efficacy and environmental impact
  • Be agile, test as much as you can before development and deployment and fail fast to minimise risk.

For other members of the tech team:

  • Send fewer emails - use instant chat services like Slack
  • Digitise as many of your project management processes as possible, using collaborative, cloud-based tools and document sharing services
  • Occasionally do audio-only calls with team members and clients, instead of video
  • Try to disconnect from a power source when you can, minimise any unused browser tabs and switch off your laptop when you’re not using it (the same applies to your mobile)
  • Include designers and developers from the very beginning of a project and incorporate sustainable practices into your goal setting and discovery phases, implementation and measurements of success
  • Only work with ethical service providers, including digital design and development agencies
  • Share insight and knowledge about digital sustainability far and wide, but most importantly upwards. It’s key that your senior leadership team buys into the value of digital sustainability.

The benefits of digital sustainability to business

More and more businesses are realising that digital sustainability can positively impact profitability, as much as it can protect the planet.

In fact, a recent study by Deloitte Insights showed that businesses who actively engage in purpose-driven pursuits see better returns than those who are driven by profit alone. As a humanity-led digital agency, this echoes the very ethos that drives us at Digital Detox. The moral is simple; don’t chase the profit. Focus solely on purpose and the rewards will follow.

“Purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction.” (Source: Deloitte Insights)

Whether your objective for becoming more energy efficient, digitally, is to improve customer satisfaction, achieve your CSR goals or simply do something good for the environment, the end result remains the same. If every individual makes some small changes, the collective change will have a huge impact.

Till next time…

In the next blog of our Detoxing series, we discuss how to detox your approach to application development. Follow us on Linkedin to find out when the next blog is live!

Or, get in touch for a chat today about digital sustainability and how to get started on your detoxing journey.

Read more in this series