“The first thing is that very few people know the carbon impact of the Internet! That’s what Nicolas Paries, founder of Hey Low, a design studio that creates low-carbon brands and websites says.
This is the constant and recurring theme of digital. Its invisibility. Its apparent immaterialism. The fact that it is “in the cloud”. Except the cloud is on the ground. The Internet is by far the biggest machine ever built. If the internet were a country, it would be the seventh biggest polluter. We produce enough electronic waste every year to build a Great Wall of China.
Making massive and exponentially growing waste visible is one of the most important design challenges of our time. Getting people to care about e-waste and wasted data is a critical design challenge. Designing ways to help reduce digital waste is extremely important.
This is what Paries and his team are doing. “We have to go with a lot of education at the start of the projects,” explained Paries. “That’s why we’ve developed a ‘strategy’ around it to sell the idea and provide more incentives. We incorporated speed into the equation. Which for websites equates to better conversion. This setting and the ability for customers to talk to their audience about this issue is a good selling point. “
Poor image optimization, Paries notes, is the most common mistake. “So many times, images aren’t compressed or optimized, like they’re not displayed at the right size. Or there is no use of modern web format, like WebP. And people also like to put a lot of pictures.
“We created an e-commerce website for Moeon, a sustainable fashion boutique in Berlin (moeon.de/). We used a collection page (a page where you can see a range of different products) as a basis for comparison. We went from 10MB to 1MB. We were able to do this using simple images with a light background, which improved the compression. This allowed us to display a lot of products while keeping the page weight low.
“We are in the process of creating a directory of low carbon websites. Browsing the web for light, well-designed websites is a bit of a downer. The amount of garbage all over the web due to improper use of images and bad or no optimization is outrageous. Some websites even have a very minimalist design but are still very heavy, like this one I found yesterday: https://www.sane.global/ (almost 10MB for nothing…). ”
In 15 years, the average website weight has grown from around 400KB to 4MB. In fact, most websites I come across are 6, 8, 10, or 15MB more per page. This weight is not necessary. It’s just laziness, poor, arrogant web design. It’s a climate crisis and web designers are throwing gasoline on the fire. Marketers are flooding the web with spam. So many organizations post large amounts of shoddy content, which they then leave to rot and pollute. Ninety percent of the data is of no use. Adtech is like the Internet oil industry. Surveillance capitalism is not just bad for people. It is bad for the planet because it is extremely energy intensive and wastes a lot.
We need a new culture. A new system. The cult of extraction, creation, production, publishing is killing us and everything around us. We have to become maintainers, optimizers, feeders, reviewers, editors, eliminators, erasers.
Gerry McGovern is the Founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. It is widely regarded as the global authority on increasing web satisfaction by managing customer tasks.