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Sustainable design and coding buzzwords reviewed

Green coding, sustainable design, designing for the environment, sustainable development... there are lots of terms buzzing about in relation to 'sustainable' design and programming. While we've always thought of ourselves as an environmentally conscious design studio – choosing recycled papers and environmentally friendly inks for our printed works, for example – we thought it was time to take a deeper look at some of these principles.

What impact do our design and development practices actually have, how can we compare our practices to others and know where to improve? Let's look at four areas to start with.

Carbon emissions

Carbon emmissions, carbon footprint and carbon offsetting are probably the most well-known climate measurement terms at the moment. We know that everything we use and consume in our daily lives and as businesses – from computers, printers and lighting to our lunches or the way we travel – can theoretically be measured in terms of its carbon emission. High carbon emission is bad for the environment, accelerates global warming but can be offset through things such as planting more trees.

In practice, this if of course much more complex. Leaving aside the flaws in the tree-planting schemes (anyone watering and maintaining the trees), where can a small business even begin to quantify its carbon emissions? Luckily there are tools and guides out there specifically for SMEs. The WWF's Emission Possible guide helps businesses calculate their emissions. The SME Climate Hub also offers tools and encourages UK small businesses to commit to reporting and emissions and there are many others out there.



Beyond carbon emissions, when it comes to graphic design for products and printed matter, there are other concrete environmental impacts. Smaller considerations such as damaging chemicals used in inks for printing, in packaging, in substrates or in cleaning products seem to have disappeared into the background and are usually not thought of in direct relation to global warming or climate goals. However, they are certainly worth including in an environmentally-friendly design policy and when reviewing the green credentials of your business and most suppliers now offer environmentally-friendly alternatives for inks, papers, cardboards etc. or should at least be able to provide insight into the materials used.


Green coding

This blog post explains it nicely: there are two considerations when it comes to programming and the environment. On a structural level, ensuring the code is 'lean' means less consumption of hardware space. Lean and clean code should be a given anyway to maintain good loading speeds and usabilty. In a generic website, code is likely to account for a much smaller proportion than say image storage.

The second consideration is behaviour, i.e. what's required for the website or software to load and behave the way we want it to. This is where it gets more interesting and a website truly aiming to be green will need to blend design and programming to result in user-friendly yet energy-efficient features and look and feel.

A third consideration to add would be the infrastructre behind the website. Where is it hosted, is the hosting provider carbon-neutral?


Sustainable design

What then, is sustainable design? Whereas carbon emission measuring provides an opportunity for tracking and reporting a specific segment of our climate impact, sustainable design as a principle is wider-reaching. The EU's sustainable product policy covers things such as energy labelling on products, but sustainbility principles in design will usually look at the social, environmental and economic impact of products and services from their initial design through to their end-of-life.

For print materials and other physical design outputs, this demands an awareness of the full supply chain of the materials used and the people involved in making them, as well as an understanding of the recyclability, repairability and influence of the product after its made. Leyla Acaroglu's blog post offers a good place to start familiarising yourself with some of these concepts.

For website design you might also think of longevity, efficiency and repairability. Are we creating quick solutions that will require constant repair or, worse, rebuild, and are hosted with companies beyond our control? Or, can we instead think ahead and create programs and products that are designed to last, require only small adjustments over time, and are built and hosted in transparent equitable environments?

You can find out more about on-IDLE Ltd's climate commitment here: https://www.on-idle.com/climate-commitment

Have you signed up to a climate commitment or are you part of an environmental business, design or programming standard? We are curious... Let us know via our socials.