When Taylors came to us with an idea for showcasing their sustainability efforts, we knew there was a wealth of projects, hard work and success stories to shout about. We also knew there was too much to tackle all at once, so we came up with a phased approach to developing a beautiful new website over 3 years, gradually introducing more functionality over time to inform and engage visitors.
During our planning, we had a light bulb moment. If Taylors are going above and beyond to be more sustainable in every aspect of their business, surely their Sustainability Hub should too?
So we set out to echo the Taylors ethos in the development of their website, using sustainable digital practices to minimise the environmental impact of the site and its production.
What were we already doing?
Luckily we weren’t starting from scratch; Engage already has several practices in place to reduce our waste and carbon emissions, including:
- Being a paperless office as far as possible
- Using a sustainable hosting provider
- Ensuring all websites we build are lightweight and speed optimised
- Offering a cycle to work scheme to encourage more environmentally friendly commutes
- Avoiding unnecessary travel where possible, opting for calls and video meetings with clients instead
Why is it important?
There isn’t currently a lot of awareness in the digital industry of the ‘sphere of impact’. Our work isn’t visibly producing fumes, so it’s easy to forget about our environmental effect. Digital industries somehow manage to avoid accountability for their energy usage, despite the majority of us consuming digital content every day.
In reality, our devices, internet usage and offices are all contributing to our carbon footprint. Servers, data centres and the internet are using huge amounts of energy every day, and very little of it is generated by green energy sources.
These factors are only going to grow in significance as our use of and dependency on tech rises, as it certainly will. It’s important that we acknowledge the environmental impact of the digital sphere now, so we can proactively find ways to minimise it.
“In the very near future, digital sustainability must become an essential factor in how we work, not a gimmick or a ‘nice to have’.”
What steps did we take?
We mindfully implemented many best practice measures for reducing our carbon footprint throughout the website project, including:
- Optimising images to reduce file size
- Being strategic in our use and compression of videos
- Using lazy load for images and media
- Setting up web caching
- Deleting items when they were no longer needed
- Improving site navigation to make it easy to find information
- Using carbon offset hosting
- Implementing dark mode to increase battery life (coming soon)
We also took the extra step of tracking our own CO2 emissions for the duration of the project, so we could properly quantify our impact and get an insight into how we could improve in the future. As this is a multi-phase project, we have a huge opportunity to improve as we go, as well as gaining learnings to roll out to other projects.
“While some tasks necessitate bigger screens and more powerful machines, it shows that being more mindful of our device usage could make a big difference.”
How did we do?
We’d made the statements, but we wanted the stats to back it up. We built a Carbon-Offsetting Calculator for the project, where we tracked our estimated carbon footprint throughout. Our total included the Engage office space and server (generously over-calculated based on the whole office, not just the Taylors project team), device usage and travel.
Our calculator clearly showed us that our laptops were much more efficient than our desktops. While some tasks necessitate bigger screens and more powerful machines, it shows that being more mindful of our device usage could make a big difference.
The most surprising result is our phone usage stats; we discovered that phone calls were producing a carbon emission of 0.0034/hour. A phone call is often the go-to ‘eco-friendly’ replacement for a face-to-face meeting, but if we wanted to go one better, an online call via a laptop would leave an even lighter footprint.
Our chosen beneficiary
With our footprint calculated, it was time to choose a project to support. We chose to support the Aqua Clara Water Filtration Programme in Kenya. It’s commonplace in Kenya for families to boil water to purify it for drinking purposes, and continued use of firewood for this purpose has led to destruction of woodlands. The project is to introduce a zero energy water purifier to displace the use of firewood fuel, reducing 181,797 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
What’s next for digital sustainability?
Our partnership with Taylors to develop their sustainability hub is spanning 3 years, during which we plan to continue tracking our carbon footprint and looking for new opportunities to make both the website and our production practices more sustainable.
The role of a digital agency as experts puts us in a position of responsibility, to educate clients on the invisible impact of their online activity and to support them in adopting more sustainable ways of working. We can also take our findings and apply them to other projects, with Taylors and beyond. Engage are aiming to eventually become a certified B Corporation, an accolade that recognises companies who are leading the way in sustainable and responsible business.
In the very near future, digital sustainability must become an essential factor in how we work, not a gimmick or a ‘nice to have’.
The good news is that digital sustainability should be beneficial for consumers, businesses and the planet. A website that runs more efficiently has a lower carbon footprint, and also delivers a faster experience for the user. And as consumers become more keen to engage with brands who demonstrate strong values, eco-friendly companies will thrive. It really is a win-win-win.