Mission Statements for Sustainable Web Design


One way to introduce sustainability into your workflow is with a mission statement shared among designers, developers, clients, and other stakeholders in the web design process. A mission statement can provide general principles that everyone can access to understand sustainability in the context of the project. In addition, it can provide specific benchmarks established for the project. Finally it could provide the public ways to confirm that a project follows sustainable guidelines.

Since the crafting of sustainable mission statements is relatively new, I am going to analyze some mission statements and compare them with more general principles of sustainable design detailed on my Design Page.

To see the high-level goals for a sustainable mission statement, check the Design page on this site. I have a list of principles adapted from industrial design and architecture, detailed admirably by Nathan Shredoff in his book, Design is the Problem: The Future of Design Must Be Sustainable.

What should be in a Sustainable Web Design mission statement? Here are some of the things I’d like to see:

  • Description of sustainability, applied to the Internet
  • Description of what it means to be a sustainable web designer
  • Description of actions/strategies taken by a company/designer/developer to increase web sustainability
  • Segmenting of the kinds of sustainable (WPO, SEO, social, economic)
  • Evidence of sustainable practices in multiple segments of sustainability
  • Ways for the reader to confirm sustainability (software tools, certificates, awards)

Below, I look at a few sustainability statements in terms of this list. If you’re working on your own Sustainable Web Design strategy, it makes sense to read them in detail, and take the best ideas for your own.

Example #1 – Serversaurus (a green hosting company)

First up is a mission statement for infrastructure, provided by Serversaurus, a green hosting company in Australia. Now, the term “green hosting” has been diluted as various ISPs try to find an edge that differentiates their service. Nevertheless, genuine green hosting services exist. Since they are concerned with infrastructure,  their mission statements focus on increasing the efficiency of the network. This is a good example of “sourcing green materials.”

https://serversaurus.com.au/story#environment

Main statement:

All of our rack infrastructure is carbon offset, meaning the many tons of CO2 that is generated during power generation to keep Serversaurus running, has been partially remedied by planting over one hundred trees per year. In 2014, we’re also planting a tree for every like and follow on Facebook & Twitter, up to 500 trees. Serversaurus also donates 1% of its profits to One Percent for the Planet, a non-profit organisation rallying businesses to donate 1% of their revenue to environmental protection. In 2013 we made our 1% donation to Friends of the Earth, to help them fight against fracking. Serversaurus is also housed in an environmental aware coworking space (of our own construction) which is detailed below.

Carbon offsets are sometimes critiqued, as not “green” enough, but in the context of systems theory they are just fine. To compensate for the C02 produced by the company’s servers (which are probably using electricity from fossil fuels) the group plants trees, which act as a carbon sink.  In addition, by contributing to environmental causes, Serversaurs is shifting value from their domain (which is mostly hardware) to the social issues in sustainable design.

However, since they are providing infrastructure, many of the principles above don’t apply. In fact, the “Permaculture” model of sustainability applies more to this kind of company (see the “Design” page for principles).

Permaculture Sustainability Principle Sustainable Web Design Goals
Observe and Interact Build sites as part of an interdependent community
Catch and store energy Cache information, update sites rather the build completely new ones
Obtain a yield The site should provide positive value to the client, and larger web community, not a time or money sink
Apply self-regulation and accept feedback The site should have “reporter” technology for use, efficiency and ultimately carbon footprint can be tracked and used for revisions
Use and value renewable resources and services Use efficient virtual services (e.g. green webhosts)
Produce no waste Sites should be steady-state, not causing an accumulation of e-junk (files, stored data) in themselves or on the Internet
Design from patterns to details Start with group-design techniques like Progressive Enhancement
Integrate rather than segregate Connect your site to others, and create value by interconnection of websites instead of portal-style content provisions
Use small & slow solutions Design for the low end first, instead of starting with the bleeding edge
Use & value diversity Use local designers, developers, webhosts instead of pushing to a single big corporate network
Use edges & value the marginal Support communication at the edges – old browsers, platforms, slow networks
Creatively use & respond to change Use, don’t avoid new technologies that promise sustainability, e.g. imageless design with CSS

For a hosting company mission statement, “Use renewable resources” applies, along with “Produce no Waste” and “Use and value diversity,” which might translate to local hosting instead of global “cloud” services.

This mission statement does a good job of demonstrating what a green host does. Numbers are provided. Since this is not a design shop, the focus is on the technology, and the social (carbon offsets).  Green office practices are also listed, with less information.

The one thing missing is assessment – how can a potential client prove to themselves that this host is “more green?” A comparison with other hosts, scores from tests, or other means of assessment would be welcome.

Example #2 – Mightybytes (A Web Design/Development Firm)

MightyBytes, a Chicago-based firm which runs a great sustainability blog, has a mission statement more appropriate to designers and developers.

http://www.mightybytes.com/about/sustainability/

Main statement:

Mightybytes is committed from the ground up to a vision for sustainability that runs through every aspect of the company, from the composting worms in our kitchen to the optimized code we write and the energy efficient servers it runs on. Social responsibility and environmental stewardship are at the core of the company’s value system, which gives us a unique opportunity to help your business or organization develop technology solutions, communications platforms and social campaigns that support sustainable initiatives.
Bullets:
  • Devise and implement sustainability-driven communications strategies for both internal and external stakeholders.
  • Develop technology platforms and tools that drive sustainable initiatives.
  • Create measurable social and marketing campaigns to increase engagement and community participation.

Here we see general sustainability principles listed, along with specific bullets. The information has also been segmented – technological fixes are differentiated from social and design workflow fixes. The other big plus here is an ongoing blog on web sustainability. MightyBytes posts regularly, which assures the potential client that the sustainability statement is important to the company, and not just window dressing.

MightyBytes is the creator of EcoGrader, a project of MightyBytes. Do MightyBytes websites score better, using their own EcoGrader system? This would be a powerful way to demonstrate sustainability in product. Currently, assessment of this form is lacking. Adding numerics would boost the case for this company’s sustainability even more than before.

Example #3 Yoke – A Design Shop

Yoke is a UK design shop, providing website design, brand identity work, and motion graphics. The mission statement of this site is crafted for readability, in a rather “infographic” style.

http://thisisyoke.com/sustainable-web-design-yoke-approach

Here we see a detailed description of what web sustainability means. Later on, the document goes into specific methods use at Yoke to improve sustainable work. There is also some history provided on sustainability, which is necessary for many clients considering these issues for the first time.

Yoke also takes sustainability beyond efficiency into customer support, in particular customer management of completed sites.

The starting place for sustainable web design is creating websites that first and foremost fulfill their function effectively – are engaging, user friendly and informative. Creating a website that works for the client will mean that it becomes long lived (making it economically sustainable). Designing a website with change in mind is important – By designing website templates that allow the owner to make simple design changes themselves in the future (eg. changing images and content), ensures it can be kept up to date without regularly having to hire a designer.

Maintenance and updates are the 5 billion ton beast in the room. Websites, unlike print, are never “done.”  Typically, there is a design stage leading to launch. This stage has a particular carbon footprint based mostly on office and workflow practices. But after launch, sustainability is measured by “modify-ability.” If a site requires major developer work for minor upgrades, it is less sustainable. Ditto for sites that always require a client to go through the design/developer to make changes – you’re adding an extra group to the project. Making sites easily maintained by end-users reduces this load.

Like the other statements means of assessment are lacking the description is conversational, and provides a good intro to sustainable web design. Specifics (read bullets) are lacking, even though techniques in HTML and CSS are listed. There’s no way to tell how these were implement in Yoke designs, and how they compare, sustainability-wise, to other design shops.

In addition, there is some obsolete information. While CRT monitors use more power to display white, the opposite is true for LCD displays. Making a “blackle” website may actually increase power consumption in today’s world as CRTs are replaced by flatscreens.

Example #4 – Zero Above

The last example is Zero Above, another UK design/development shop. Their mission statement is distinct in offering specifics, in other words, numbers.

http://www.zeroabove.co.uk/sustainability/

This mission statement focused specifically on carbon footprints. Methods and frequency of measuring and computing carbon footprints are documented. In addition, certificates are cited which provides assessment for clients. The group is sensitive to “greenwash” statements, and try to justify their mission through specific ways of measurement.  They do a pretty good job of documenting their work to create a green office.

Annual assessments completed each November calculate the carbon footprint associated with emissions across our business including business travel, energy consumption and waste produced.

What’s missing is a sustainable practice list for their design and development work in addition to the office. Creating a green office goes a long way to making a company green, but sustainability also should be evident in design and programming work. What practices lead to more sustainable sites? This is a pretty common omission – many people equate sustainable design with efficient offices – but it is one that can be improved.

We need more of…

All these statements are great – but something is mission. Right now, all the mission statements considered, along with many others not here (check the Design page) are strong on stating their commitment to sustainability, but weak on proving that they are more sustainable than their competition. Without that comparison, the statement risk falling into the trap of “default belief system.”

If questioned, almost any designer or web design shop would say that they are interested in web sustainability, even if it is just painting the background of their pages green. However, deeds not words, are what actually lowers the Internet’s footprint. Attitudes, personal commitment, lifestyle may be a start, but not a finish. Assessment is how firms that are genuinely changing their practices in web sustainability can show they are not just evoking a form of “green piety.”

Demonstrating results in a quantitative way is the royal road to making web sustainability real for the design community.

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