Designing for sustainable digital experiences

August 16, 2023
Claire Jaycock

Everything that we do, look at, create, share and keep online creates carbon emissions. The size of your personal or business digital footprint is directly related to the size of your carbon footprint. As humans using up our planet's resources we have a responsibility to understand how our digital habits are affecting the present state and future of the environment.

To put this into context, let’s explore what we are doing to the planet when we don’t clean up our inboxes (something I am very guilty of). According to the average spam email creates 0.3g CO2e, while a standard email with images such as logos in a signature create around 4g CO2e. Currently in my personal inbox I have 13,033 emails, 8,961 are unread. If we assume that the majority of the unread are spam and the read are standard emails, that means the carbon footprint of my personal inbox is currently 18,976.3g CO2e - almost 19kg! Now if my calculations are correct (it is entirely possible that they are not, the internet can’t always be trusted), that is the equivalent CO2 of charging a mobile phone 2311 times - all because I haven't unsubscribed to spam and emptied my inbox. You can rest assured I will be addressing my email problem asap.

So our inboxes are climate change offenders, what about our websites and digital experiences? Everything we put on the internet has the potential to be digital pollution. As designers, developers and website product owners we need to recognise our contribution and make some changes. Luckily for us there are a 3 easy things we can integrate into our workflow that also contribute to a simpler, faster and more intuitive user experience. Double win!

1. Make sure your customer spends less time on your website or app.

Ok hear me out. It seems counter-intuitive to spend all that time and effort building a beautiful digital experience then showing your customers the exit, but what if they are leaving because they efficiently found what they were looking for, fulfilled their needs and have had an exceptional digital and brand experience? That’s what we should be aiming for. Less time spent browsing on a site directly means lower carbon emissions. Ensuring the Information Architecture and Navigation of the site is properly designed and tested, and the content is easy to find, concise and as minimal as possible not only saves your customers time, it saves the planet too.

2. Reduce, reuse and optimise

Every piece of content, image, video, document and copy is stored somewhere and needs to be served up to your device. Storage takes energy to keep the data stored and available. When you want to consume or share that content more energy is used to send the information to you and assemble itself on your screen. By designing specifically for the users goals and refraining from adding anything extra for the sake of it we can reduce our carbon footprint to only what is necessary. Using modern file types that are fit for purpose, caching, lazy loading and serving content from as close to the user as possible are a few more great ways of optimising your sites for a more sustainable outcome.

3. Get your SEO right

Investing in Search Engine Optimisation is a great business decision anyway, but it can also help reduce your environmental impact. SEO has become a specialty of its own and if you nail it on your website Google will match your site to the users search intent. This reduces their need to visit multiple sites to find the info they need and gets them on to your site faster.

If I can make a few small changes to my workflow that make a big impact to our planet, why wouldn’t I? Join me in doing what we can and unsubscribe from those spam emails today!