With sustainable UX design becoming a more popular concept, have you ever wondered how much carbon footprint our internet use actually leaves behind? How badly does that one email or page refresh affect our planet?
Digital transformation has been promoted as one of the many ways to reduce carbon footprint and lead a more sustainable lifestyle, which is 100 percent true. After all, Zoom calls consume less energy than getting to an in-person meeting in a vehicle, whether in a car, bus, train, or plane. Still, each of our internet activities costs a few grams of carbon dioxide because we need power to run our devices, internet networks, and especially servers.
A BBC report reveals that our internet use accounts for 3.7 percent of the greenhouse emissions around the globe. That means every individual, you and me included, accounts for 912 pounds (414 kilograms) of carbon dioxide a year. Now that's a lot of emissions!
The good news is that as business owners and UX designers, we have the power to reduce that number by creating sustainable UX designs.
What Is Sustainable UX Design?
The goal of sustainability is to allow humans to exist on Earth for a long, long time. It involves ecological, social, and economic aspects.
3 Types of Sustainability
- Ecological: Preserving natural resources, protecting the environment, and reducing waste.
- Social: Promoting fair labor and social responsibility.
- Economic: Maintaining accessibility to sustainability efforts and outcomes for everyone in terms of availability, ease of use, and cost.
Following those principles, sustainable UX design is the process of creating a user experience that follows sustainable practices. Sustainable UX design should limit negative impacts (reducing carbon footprint, energy consumption, and product waste) and provide more positive impacts (like green solutions, equitable education, fair labor, etc.) for people, society, and the environment.
Let’s see some practical examples of sustainable UX design.
How to Create Sustainable UX Designs
Digital sustainability focuses on making our digital products (websites, apps, devices, etc.) more eco-friendly, without forgetting their social and economic aspects. We can achieve this by maintaining low energy consumption through our products, as well as addressing ethical concerns.
Well-designed UX focuses on creating efficient and user-friendly interactions. When users can finish their tasks quickly and easily, they spend less time interacting with digital interfaces. This speed reduces energy consumption and contributes to sustainability goals.
Here are several ways to achieve such efficiency.
5 Steps to Sustainable UX
- Faster loading times.
- Optimized content.
- Mindful multimedia use.
- Responsive design and accessibility.
- Tracking and measuring usage.
Faster Loading Times
Test your web loading speed using Google PageSpeed Insights and try to maintain a score between 90 and 100. Fast loading time reduces energy consumption during use and also helps your site rank higher on the SERP.
To improve your site speed, you can reduce your redirects with plugins like Yoast SEO, enable cache with plugins like WP Super Cache, remove unnecessary plugins, and choose performance-focused hosting like WP Engine or Flywheel. These plugins are subscription and for reference only. You get higher quality and more features with them, but you can always find free plugins to try before committing to paid ones.
Prioritize straightforward content with well-structured information architecture (IA) so users can understand your message easily and quickly, reducing the amount of digital navigation and interaction time.
Mindful Multimedia Use
Compress large images, use videos only when absolutely necessary, and avoid using animations that serve no purpose. This improves your site speed and helps reduce the required bandwidth and energy. As a bonus, your site will be more accessible for people with autism.
Responsive design and accessibility
This practice reduces the need for users to switch between different gadgets, which can be less energy-efficient. It also promotes longer device lifespans.
Tracking and measuring usage
Use carbon footprint management software like Carbon Trust, SAP, or others to see and review how much your efforts contribute to digital sustainability. Based on the data you acquire from the software, you can see which approach has performed well and make informed actions for future sustainability strategies.
For example, if your loading time isn’t as fast as you want it to be, you may want to do another web audit for redirects, broken links, and large images and videos.
Making Sustainable UX Ethical
Sustainability isn’t just about environmental impact; it also means taking ethical considerations toward social and economic factors. We can play a role in ensuring that our digital products adhere to ethical standards, such as respecting user privacy and promoting fair labor practices in the development process.
embrace Privacy By Design
Integrate privacy considerations into your UX design from the outset. Take privacy into consideration right from the start of the project and at every step along the way. Minimize data collection to only what is essential for the functionality of the product and provide clear explanations and controls for users to manage their data. All in all, make sure you follow the seven principles of privacy by design in your UX project.
follow Fair Labor Practices
Provide fair, legally binding contracts even when hiring UX designers and digital workers through platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, or TopCoder.
Proudly showcase and communicate your sustainability efforts with users to promote and inspire sustainability in their daily lives.
Streamline and automate your processes wherever possible to reduce your production costs. This keeps your product and service prices affordable so more people can use it.
Digital sustainability is not limited to screens and gadgets. Educate users about how to use your product in a more eco-friendly way — use low power mode, adjust their energy settings, etc. — to foster a sense of responsibility and sustainable behavior.
Digital Sustainability Starts With Us
Each of us can contribute to sustainability in a way that aligns with our career goals and personal values. After all, sustainable UX design is not just about complying with environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) regulations — it’s about our commitment to becoming better individuals and creating better communities for everone.