The bond between UX and environmental sustainability is not always so evident, nevertheless some choices of the UX Designers can have a positive impact on the environmental sustainability.
The global temperature shows a relentless increase and the forecasts on climate change are alarming. Today the information on climate phenomena and the global warming caused by the humans is available for most of us and everyone is called to be involved by adopting virtuous behaviors. Reduce travels by plane, use less printers and switch off the lights in unused spaces are the easiest ways to contribute to reduce the global carbon emissions. But we can all do more.
What about the professionals whose job is totally in the digital field? How can a UX designer or web developer have a positive impact on the environment? Here some elements about which all of us can reflect.
The relation with the web and sustainability
All of us use the web, both at work and in spare time, contributing to introduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Our choices and behaviors can do their part to contribute to respect the environment. It is impossible to think not to use the Internet, above all in some professions, nonetheless it is possible to make it more compatible with a sustainable development.
Internet has more than 4 billion users, according to the Global Digital report 2018. It is an infrastructure requiring a lot of energy, calculated in more than 3 percent of the global consumption, due to the power consumption requested to store and display data. The use of the web burns fossil fuels with the effect to issue more than 880 million tons of CO2 per year, exactly as the whole air force sector, according to a CO2GLE study.
Virtuous behaviors to limit the CO2 emission when using the Internet
- It is possible to purchase electric power produced by renewable sources and assess proposals of green hosting, whose servers are powered by clean energy. The ecological choice concerning the provision of energy of an agency office or the hosting is of course an option to be assessed.
- Another behavior to adopt is to make use of the Cloud. Usually the remote solutions are more respectful of the environment compared to on-premises solutions or traditional server farms. Not every cloud service supplier uses energy from renewable energy sources. The cloud providers’ data centers are usually more efficient compared to the traditional systems because they use a reduced number of servers compared to the local systems and can achieve a utilization rate for server of 65% compared to 15% of on-premises servers, according to the NRDC report 2014 “Data Center Efficiency Assessment”. Basically, the companies using the cloud prepare less than a quarter of the servers compared to the on-premises solutions.
Reduce the quantity of data present on the web to limit CO2 emissions through the UX Design
The web is a combination of data connected by a network composed of network switches, cables, towers, underwater lines, Wi-Fi and much else. These are services with a large consumption of electric power. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce the quantity of data required to offer a good experience in a website or in a service platform.
Of course, a valid web presence is currently achieved through an important use of data: the web page is becoming on average increasingly heavy in terms of megabyte to offer stunning and high-quality images, along with other code elements that contribute to improve interfaces and navigability.
Not every web developer pays attention to the dimensions of the page and the website speed, whose navigation requires more energy than better-optimized contents. Of course, the user, if connected to a fast network, has a little perception of the problem, which is conversely evident for those who make use of slower connections. Nevertheless, it is by now known that the pages that load fast are more appreciated by the browser engines, in terms of both positioning and User Experience. The metrics of fast and light websites confirm that they obtain low rates of abandonment and more conversions. In SEO terms, the advantages of the speed properly compensate the reduction in the abundant use of java script and code that make the pages heavier. After the release of Google Speed Update 2018, the most used search engine in the Western world, it considers the speed as a ranking factor, above all in the field of experience with mobile devices. Hence, in order to ensure the environmental sustainability, it shall be paid attention to the factors slowing down a website, such as:
- the weight of images
- low performance hosting
- uncompressed CSS style sheets
- lacking GZip compression
- non-optimized code on the server
- non-optimized browser caching
Energy consumptions and IoT
The Internet of things has a significant role in the energy consumption. Indeed, the wireless technology requires more energy compared to a traditional cabled connection.
Today the Internet of Things has strongly become part of both companies and houses. Connections of PCs and other devices, such as surveillance video cameras, appliances, signal repeaters, wireless printers, barcode readers and voice assistants, are by now integrated in the work context and everyone’s life. Let’s imagine to ask to Alexa or Google Assistant to increase the temperature, maybe by connecting itself with the Nest thermostat. The first order activates a set of connections with other devices and software that entail a use of further energy than that indicated in the invoice for electric power and mobile phone data, according to Mozilla’s Internet Health Report 2018.
The developers also in this case, can adopt specific solutions limiting the power consumption of these devices and the one related to their connections. A small action can involve million devices and positively affect the environment, above all in the context of corporate, domestic networks and in home robotics.
Make and communicate choices of environmental sustainability: a marketing opportunity
It can seem inappropriate, but assuming virtuous behaviors in terms of environmental sustainability and being able to communicate them can make a difference in the choice of a company, a supplier or a consultant linked to the digital world.
Let’s imagine that a private citizen, or a conscious entrepreneur, pay attention to the respect of the planet, and want to select a UX designer to develop the new website and the corporate image through the Social media. They will be of course impressed by companies or consultants characterized also by a specific attention to the environmental topics. Indeed, it is a matter of evoking the pleasure to cooperate with people sharing the same mindset of the customer, people that of course will make subsequent choices concerning the sustainability of the digital presence. Being able to communicate this attention to the environmental sustainability to the consumers, indeed, allows the entrepreneur to engage leads that share the specific attention to these topics and gladly, under the same conditions, choose a sustainable product compared to the one proposed by the competitors.
The environmental sustainability requires the change of mindset by developers and UX Designers
Upstream of possible behaviors and actions by the web operators, a change of mindset is required, transversely affecting all the development activities of software, interfaces and websites and of products linked to the network.
When at the core of one’s activity and expertise there is the environmental sustainability, also what is realized will be less energy-intensive.
Some virtuous behaviors, assumed in the corporate or freelancer’s world, can also contribute to reduce the CO2 emissions. The highest savings can be obtained without a doubt by reducing the travels. Of course, it is not easy to avoid to reach the customers or take part in meetings and conferences. But, by now we can use several tools that allow us to work at a distance even conserving the face-to-face approach. They are tools to manage projects but also platforms that allow to have easily a video chat with one or more persons. Suffice to introduce more deeply these tools in the corporate work or in the relationship with the customer, who gets used easily, after a handshake of the initial meeting, to manage the relationship with consultants through the web. In this way, you can save time and money without losing the quality of an interpersonal relationship, mediated this time by a webcam, compared to a more traditional e-mail.
Naturally, the work and management of relationships at a distance is not an option for everyone and has its tricks, but it is possible to motivate the customer to assess the advantages.
The environmental sustainability is linked to every human activity, including those linked to Digitalization, in the development of websites and interfaces. The professionals operating in the field of UI and UX Design are called to consider the parameter of the attention to the energy consumptions in their job. Both professionalism and personal consciousness require it. But, very probably, this attention will be increasingly demanded by the customers!