Presentation of the guide
This guide presents design best practices to help create digital services with a minimal environmental footprint. It tackles eco-design and links it with accessibility, attention economy, and diversity topics. Indeed, eco-design is closely related to user experience and digital accessibility. An eco-designed service not only has a lower environmental impact, but also offers an improved experience for the majority of users.
This guide is a selection of best practices that any designer can implement, whatever their technical level.
Eco-design includes much more radical and long-term aspirations than those exposed below (see: To go further and beyond). However we deliberately chose to focus on recommendations that are easily implemented in current projects, to give tips on how to use an eco-design approach for everyone. If you wish to go further, you can find references throughout the guide and other thought-provoking considerations at the end.
Moreover, this guide is meant to evolve and be updated on a regular basis by the contributions from the community. Would you like to contribute? Join the channel #projet_ecoconception on the Designers Ethiques Slack space.
Eco-designing digital services
In 2019, the digital industry was accountable for 4% of the global greenhouse gas emissions (ADEME - The hidden side of technologies - French). It amounts to the emissions of all the trucks in the world, or the emissions of both Canada and Germany combined (The Shift Project - video in French). Digital industry has the highest growth of greenhouse gas emissions of all industries as it is projected to double by 2025 to reach 8% (this assessment was made prior to the Covid-19 pandemic). Based on these figures, a growing number of stakeholders started to reflect upon the topic of eco-designing digital services.
Eco-design is an approach of continuous improvements which aims at limiting the use of resources at different levels: the user’s device, the network, and the data center. In eco-design, we take into account the digital service in its entirety:
Eco-design of digital services comes from a standardized methodology (ISO 14062: 2003).
The major impact of technologies on the environment comes from the production of devices and in a smaller part from the electricity produced to make them work. Eco-design can result in a lighter application layer. Eco-designed applications, websites, and software should also work on older devices, which can reduce the need to replace devices. Users who experience a slow device often believe it is outdated, and tend to renew their devices (smartphone, pc, tablet, etc.) to overcome this slowness.
The following best practices have positive impacts on the greenhouse gas emissions, and of all the 9 planetary boundaries.
Eco-design also has social and territorial aspects. Limiting the usage of a digital service to the latest generation of smartphones, OS, browsers, or high-speed broadband excludes large portions of the population and contributes to a digital gap between those who have and those that don’t have.
The advantages of eco-design are not limited to ethical and environmental considerations. Financial and legal considerations can be excellent reasons to convince decision makers and customers to embrace this approach. Better usage of the equipment (servers, computers, and so on) enables companies to make savings on replacements, hosting costs, and more. The improved user experience, and best practices that meet accessibility requirements drive an increase in usage and adoption. Adopting an eco-design approach can be a plus for communication and represents an important differentiator for brand identity. There are more and more government proposals to regulate the environmental impact of digital services in the EU and in France, see (Proposition of law of the French Senate from the 13 January 2021): It is smarter to prepare for them than to wait and risk penalties.
If you are convinced and want to get started, here are some best practices you can start applying right away.