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  • Digital sustainability should not only focus on environmental aspects but also on social and economic dimensions.
  • Accessibility and inclusivity practices must be integrated with sustainable web design practices to create a holistic and meaningful approach.
  • Sustainable solutions, similar to accessible ones, positively impact website performance and user experiences, creating a win-win-win situation for businesses, users, and the digital environment.

In our previous articles, our focus has primarily centered on environmental sustainability. However, believing that digital sustainability is solely about protecting the planet from climate change would be a misconception. Sustainability encompasses a broader spectrum, including social and economic aspects. While some argue that our environmental efforts indirectly benefit society and future generations, there's a concern about treating people as mere additions to ecological activities. It's akin to selling eco-friendly, fair-trade luxury shoes to individuals facing hunger.

The significance of our sustainable solutions implemented on the website and online presence is heightened when we consider the parallel impact on people and their well-being. It's crucial to acknowledge and integrate sustainability's social and economic dimensions alongside environmental considerations to create a more holistic and meaningful approach.

Sustainable websites and applications should always be considered in tandem with the diverse needs and capabilities of their users. Therefore, digital sustainability must be complemented by robust accessibility and inclusivity practices to ensure that our digital products are accessible and achievable for everyone.

In today's world, where much of our daily life unfolds in the virtual and digital realm, it is imperative to create experiences that do not discriminate against anyone. While it may not be feasible to provide free laptops or smartphones to everyone globally, we can strive to build an inclusive digital world that welcomes individuals regardless of their capabilities, age, gender, culture, ethnicity, nationality, or location.

While many businesses may not prioritize sustainable actions due to perceived complexities and costs, accessibility and inclusivity are gaining increased attention, supported by legislation. Failure to meet accessibility standards can lead to legal consequences and financial penalties. Unlike sustainable practices, accessibility standards have legal backing, providing a clear framework for companies.

Let’s be honest, nobody will punish us (yet) that our website weight 1mb instead of 0,1mb and our servers run on fossil fuels instead of renewable resources. Although sustainability may not currently face legal repercussions, it shares common ground with accessibility in enhancing overall website performance. Sustainable solutions, akin to accessible ones, contribute positively to search engine rankings and user experiences, creating a win-win-win situation for businesses, users, and the digital environment.

This chapter delves into the vital connection between accessibility and sustainability, emphasizing why they should work hand in hand to create a meaningful and powerful synergy within the global movement for a better digital world.

The concept of the World Wide Web, born from the beautiful idea of connecting people, should ideally be an inclusive space accessible to all. Unfortunately, this inclusivity is not yet a reality. In many parts of the world, particularly in poorer regions with limited connectivity and restricted access to technology, the web remains unattainable. Addressing this issue requires collaborative efforts with NGOs and organizations working directly in these areas, as the challenge goes beyond creating access and involves bridging socio-economic gaps.

On the flip side, digital technology can pose challenges for users, especially those with disabilities such as visual impairments, blindness, deafness, hearing loss, cognitive, and motor issues. Disability, whether permanent or situational, touches every one of us at some point in our lives. Despite the diverse faces of accessibility needs, making digital products and services more accessible is something that can be initiated at various levels without relying on complex tools or external organizations. Importantly, it is an obligation that we must fulfill to ensure an inclusive and open digital space for everyone.

In 2023 World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 1.3 billion people experience significant disability. Translating this into a percentage, it means that 16% of the global population, or 1 in 6 individuals, faces various forms of disability. One might assume that such compelling statistics would drive web creators to prioritize accessibility for this sizable audience, making accessibility practices a standard for web. However, the reality is disheartening.

The WebAIM Million 2023 report uncovered a disconcerting truth. A staggering 96.3% of tested websites exhibited some degree of inaccessibility, marked by significant WCAG 2 failures and overall accessibility issues. Digging deeper into the report's examination of the top 1 million websites, it was revealed that approximately 50 million accessibility errors plagued their homepages, averaging 50 errors per site. These stark figures underscore the pressing need for a more concerted effort in making the digital space truly accessible to everyone, challenging web creators to bridge the accessibility gap that persists in the online world.

As we see, people with disabilities, such as those using Assistive Technology to surf the web, encounter many challenges while accessing and using the web. Of course, first of all, while creating a website or an application, by keeping accessibility in mind, we represent a conscious, fair, and ethical design approach. But today, accessibility is essential also to stay compliant with regulations and laws that require accessibility compliance on the website on several levels. When we don't design for accessibility, we can risk financial loss, potential legal issues, and missing out on a large customer base.

Not considering accessibility may result in fewer sales, unhappy customers, and potential lawsuits. It could also harm a company's reputation. That's why businesses need to make accessibility a priority when designing their websites.

Companies that follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a global standard, ensure that their websites and apps are easy to understand, navigate, and free from unnecessary distractions for everyone. Creating a digital experience that lets users do what they want with ease not only keeps them coming back but also aligns with ethical standards and legal requirements.

The WCAG 2.x guidelines outline four key principles for digital content:

  1. Perceivable: Web content should be easily perceived using various senses like sight, sound, and touch.
  2. Operable: Users should interact with web content using different adaptive devices, including a keyboard, mouse, or screen reader.
  3. Understandable: Interaction with web content should be straightforward for as many people as possible to comprehend.
  4. Robust: Web content should function well across various browsers and platforms, including assistive technologies.

When WCAG requirements are correctly implemented, they result in the development of websites and applications that benefit not only individuals and the environment but also align with business objectives.

In summary, businesses prioritizing digital accessibility, as we'll demonstrate below, not only improve performance and efficiency of digital products, positively impacting society, but also lower digital carbon footprint.

Even though green digital accessibility might seem like a niche within a niche , it has gained increasing attention in public discussions and has even become the main focus of an annual conference held in Barcelona, Spain, since 2022. Why connect these seemingly unrelated areas, one centered on people (accessibility) and the other on the environment (sustainability)? They share a common ground in the pursuit of improving the quality of life, and by combining efforts, they can amplify their impact.

To be more precise and underscore their strong connection, both sustainability and accessibility are embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 global objectives adopted by the United Nations in September 2015. These goals are a vital component of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, serving as a universal call to action to eliminate poverty, safeguard the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. A commitment to accessibility and digital sustainability best practices can significantly contribute to achieving various goals outlined in this framework:

  • Goal 4 (Quality Education)
  • Goal 8 (Descent Work and Economic Growth)
  • Goal 10 (Reduced Inequality)
  • Goal 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities)
  • Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production)
  • Goal 13 (Climate Action)
  • Goal 17 (Partnership for Goals)

Incorporating accessibility and inclusivity in design practices plays a crucial role in advancing the goals of quality education (8) and reduced inequality (10). These objectives aim to ensure equitable access to information and digital platforms and promote social inclusivity. This commitment extends to reducing inequalities among people with disabilities and fostering inclusivity across various dimensions, such as gender, orientations, ages, ethnicity, origin, religion, skills, and economic and social status. Ongoing dedication to accessible digital resources contributes significantly to educational inclusivity.

On the flip side, integrating sustainable design principles into digital products aligns with the goals of Decent Work and Economic Growth (8), Sustainable Cities and Communities (11), Responsible Consumption and Production (12), Climate Action (13), and Partnership for Goals (17).

Sustainable design advocates often champion a more responsible approach to economic growth, challenging the conventional capitalist model. Instead of pursuing aggressive and unchecked growth, adopting sustainable practices can achieve business goals while contributing to global well-being.

Despite its intangible nature, sustainable digital products actively contribute to the movement for more sustainable cities and communities. They enhance the quality of people's lives and strengthen communities by providing easier and faster access to created resources.

Primarily, digital sustainability places emphasis on the responsible production and consumption of created products and services. This involves minimizing the volume of transferred data, opting for hosting powered by renewable energy, and ultimately reducing digital emissions. These objectives align with the overarching goal of sustainable web practices, which is climate action. Additionally, fostering meaningful partnerships, such as with B corporations, becomes essential to showcase a positive change in business practices. By striving for these goals, digital sustainability contributes to the broader mission of combating climate change and establishing partnerships that embody responsible and environmentally conscious business approaches.

ESG, which stands for Environment, Social, and Governance, may initially seem like an unwelcome obligation for companies that have grown to a size requiring detailed reporting on their environmental, social, human rights, and corporate governance impact. And it can be explained as a natural human reaction. Do you remember those mandatory school readings you were forced to read? Even if we didn't fully understand them, mandatory tasks often trigger resistance and discouragement. Consequently, regulations are sometimes perceived by business owners as an additional cost, potentially because they do not see the opportunities they bring.

Fortunately, for others, this set of criteria serves as a vital element in a transparent company strategy aimed at improving its image. It involves not only enhancing the company's public perception but also analyzing and controlling its performance to positively influence the world.

ESG is more than just an acronym; it is a management and analysis framework designed to understand and measure how sustainably an organization operates. This set of criteria is commonly employed to evaluate a company's performance in environmental, social, and governance aspects, particularly by investors seeking to assess the sustainability and ethical impact of their investments.

While ESG is often associated with investing, its scope goes beyond the investment community. Customers, suppliers, and employees are increasingly considered stakeholders with a growing interest in the sustainability of an organization's operations.

By calculating an ESG score, a company can evaluate its impact on the environment, social responsibility, and governance.

1. Environment:

Environmental factors cover an organization's impact on the environment and its practices for managing environmental risks. This includes both direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions, the management's oversight of natural resources, and the company's preparedness for physical climate risks like climate change, flooding, and fires.

2. Social:

The social aspect revolves around an organization's relationships with stakeholders, measured against factors such as human capital management (HCM) metrics, including fair wages and employee engagement. It also considers the organization's impact on the communities in which it operates.

3. Governance:

Corporate governance examines how an organization is led and managed. ESG analysts evaluate the alignment of leadership incentives with stakeholder expectations, the acknowledgment of shareholder rights, and the presence of internal controls that promote transparency and accountability.

Currently, ESG reports primarily concern and bind the largest corporations. However, as directives evolve, smaller companies and eventually small to medium-sized enterprises will be required to comply.

While some may view ESG as a disruptive force complicating work, in light of inevitable regulations, we should see it as an opportunity. Embracing ESG offers a chance to enhance not only our company's image and avoid potential penalties but also to improve risk management, boost portfolio performance, become more resilient to change, and adapt to evolving market demands. Furthermore, adopting ESG practices positively impacts the environment and fosters positive relationships with all stakeholders, including investors, customers, and regulators.

Measurement stands out as one of the initial steps for any conscientious and responsible business looking to enhance its development. In this context, we discuss measuring CO2 emissions from digital products and services.

While ESG reports are mandatory for large companies, even smaller enterprises can leverage them to bolster their initiatives. From the perspectives of digital sustainability and web accessibility, ESG provides a valuable tool to review our online presence, ensuring alignment with sustainable and accessible practices.

By integrating digital sustainability and web accessibility criteria into our ESG reports, we can hold ourselves accountable for the environmental impact and inclusivity of our online platforms. This may involve assessing the energy efficiency of our website hosting, the accessibility features, and usability for individuals with disabilities, as well as the overall digital footprint of our online activities. By weaving these considerations into our ESG strategy, we can showcase an ongoing commitment to sustainability and inclusivity across all facets of our business.

In this paragraph, we explore the connections between accessibility and ESG. Digital accessibility plays a pivotal role in bolstering a company's ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) strategy, contributing in several key ways:

  • Social Inclusivity: Accessibility aligns primarily with the "S" or "social" component of ESG, reflecting an organization's commitment to social inclusivity and diversity. ESG principles showcase a business's dedication to social responsibility, and accessibility ensures that everyone can effortlessly use digital tools and services.
  • Fairness and Legal Risks: Web accessibility aligns with ESG principles by promoting fairness and reducing legal and reputation risks. This connects to ESG's governance aspect.
  • Investor and stakeholder demand: ESG serves as a criterion for screening investments, with investors increasingly prioritizing it for assessing potential investments. However, ESG extends beyond investors and is of interest to other stakeholders, including users and customers. Addressing the needs of the estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide experiencing sort of physical or cognitive disability, ESG becomes relevant to a broad demographic.

In summary, ESG and accessibility share a tight connection, both advocating for fairness, inclusivity, and responsible business practices. Companies that prioritize web accessibility and integrate it into their ESG strategies not only enhance their ESG performance but also positively impact business models. Ultimately, they represent a transformative shift from "business as usual" to "purpose-driven business," contributing to positive change in the world.

While it's highly unlikely for anyone in the business world to require an introduction to the term CSR, let's briefly revisit its essence and how it intertwines with the digital sustainability we've been exploring throughout various pages and texts. Coined in 1953 by American economist Howard Bowen, the history of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) extends much further, emerging alongside the philanthropic endeavors of early 20th-century business magnates dedicated to charitable activities and supporting impoverished communities.

Over the past few decades, corporate social responsibility has transcended its philanthropy-centric roots, transforming into a comprehensive framework that encompasses a company's social, environmental, and ethical responsibilities.

Today, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is ingrained in the core values and strategies of numerous businesses. Companies are no longer solely expected to turn a profit; they are also urged to contribute to societal well-being and minimize their adverse impact on the environment.

CSR initiatives manifest in diverse forms, including charitable donations, volunteering programs, environmental sustainability practices, ethical labor standards, diversity and inclusion efforts, and community engagement. Moreover, companies may prioritize transparency and accountability in their operations, striving to minimize their carbon footprint and waste generation.

Let's focus on digital responsibility definition. It is a set of ethical and moral obligations that individuals and organizations have when using digital technology and engaging in online activities. This includes social, environmental, and economic aspects. What does it mean exactly? Being digitally responsible means being mindful, for example, of how:

  • User's personal data is collected and used,
  • Respecting intellectual property rights,
  • Being vigilant against cyberbullying and online harassment,
  • Being accountable for one's actions and online behavior.
  • Promoting digital literacy and educating others about online safety and security practices.

Overall, it is about being a responsible and ethical digital citizen in today's digital era. From a social and economic standpoint, digital responsibility fights against digital poverty, promoting positive practices in creating accessible and inclusive digital products and access to technology.

Digital responsibility from an environmental perspective involves taking steps to minimize the impact of digital technology on the environment. This includes reducing energy consumption, minimizing electronic waste, and promoting sustainable practices in the digital world. Digital responsibility focuses on the following:

  • Minimizing energy consumption. This can be achieved by using energy-efficient devices and technologies, optimizing data centers to reduce power usage, and adopting responsible practices such as turning off devices when not in use.
  • Promoting the use of renewable energy sources for powering digital infrastructure can also contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of digital technology.
  • Minimizing electronic waste. This can be achieved through responsible recycling and disposal of electronic devices, promoting the use of durable and repairable products, and ensuring that digital products are designed with end-of-life considerations in mind. By extending the lifespan of digital devices and components, the environmental impact of electronic waste can be reduced.
  • Promoting sustainable practices in the digital world, such as using digital platforms to reduce paper consumption, promoting telecommuting to reduce carbon emissions from commuting, and supporting sustainable supply chain practices, also contribute to digital responsibility from an environmental perspective.

In the realm of digital responsibility, where individuals collectively engage in ethical actions online, corporate digital responsibility shifts the focus to organizations and corporations. It centers on their responsibility for the fair use of data and digital technologies, bringing environmental, social, and ethical practices into the business landscape and integrating them into digital transformation efforts.

A significant milestone in this regard occurred in 2021 when a collaborative initiative involving international academics, corporate practitioners, and published authors took place. This collective effort aimed to consolidate existing work into a unified, international definition that distilled the best aspects contributed by each participant. The outcome was a set of principles crafted into a manifesto, coined as Corporate Digital Responsibility. These principles serve as guiding beacons for individuals navigating the landscape of Digital Responsibility within a corporate context.

Why did they choose to distinguish Digital Responsibility from Social Responsibility? The decision was rooted in recognizing the distinct challenges and opportunities presented by the digital landscape. While Social Responsibility generally encompasses a company's ethical obligations and contributions to societal well-being, Digital Responsibility hones in on the behaviors and interactions of individuals and organizations in the digital realm. This encompasses critical issues such as privacy, cybersecurity, online harassment, and the broader societal impact of technology. The differentiation allows for a more targeted and comprehensive approach to addressing the unique challenges posed by digital technologies.

From an environmental standpoint, corporate digital responsibility involves proactive measures to minimize the environmental footprint of digital technology, promote sustainability, and ensure alignment with environmental goals.

On a social and economic level, it encompasses ensuring digital technology's accessibility, bridging the digital divide, safeguarding user privacy and data security, and advocating for inclusive and ethical technology use.

Moreover, it entails contributing to both local and global economies through digital innovation, fostering digital literacy, supporting inclusion programs, adhering to ethical business practices, and promoting fair labor conditions within the digital industry.

Overall, corporate digital responsibility encapsulates a holistic commitment to responsible, sustainable, and ethical practices in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

One might assume that sustainable design solely revolves around planet-centric considerations, primarily focusing on the environment and climate action. However, it goes beyond this narrow scope, encompassing a broader understanding of sustainability that extends to social and economic aspects. This holistic approach aligns with the principles outlined in the Sustainable Web Manifesto.

In particular, the manifesto's third principle (Open) and sixth principle (Resilient) encapsulate the essence of this comprehensive perspective.

The third principle underscores the critical aspect of accessibility, asserting,

This highlights the imperative for information to be universally accessible, accommodating users who rely on software or machines for navigation.

Concurrently, the sixth principle emphasizes the seamless functioning of services across diverse contexts:

This principle ensures accessibility for individuals, even in areas with slow internet connections.

The intersection of digital sustainability and accessibility goes beyond coincidence, creating a synergistic force that amplifies its impact potential. The emergence of the concept of green digital accessibility attests to this synergy, demonstrating how prioritizing accessibility inherently contributes to environmental sustainability.

Indeed, WCAG has served as inspiration for the development of Web Sustainability Guidelines. The creators of these guidelines emphasize that the criteria mentioned are designed not only to contribute to a better future for Mother Earth and the environment but also to cater to the diverse needs of individuals, including people with disabilities.

Let's consolidate the key intersections between web accessibility and sustainability, forming a foundation for creating digital products and services that benefit both people and the planet:

  1. Simpler Navigation and UI Implementation: Sustainable design reduces data consumption, improving user experience, performance, and SEO ranking. Prioritizing valuable content guides users efficiently, delivering direct answers to their inquiries.
  2. Environmental Footprint Reduction: Embracing simplicity in design, as recommended by accessibility guidelines, not only enhances user experiences but also minimizes the environmental impact of digital technology.
  3. Inclusive Design Practices: Sustainability practices support inclusivity, extending beyond catering to the disabled, acknowledging global audiences, particularly in regions with limited internet access.
  4. Connectivity for All: Lighter websites and applications enhance accessibility in areas with unstable internet connections and for people with older, slower devices, fostering a sense of connectivity.
  5. Streamlined User Interfaces: Designed for simplicity, these interfaces promote readability, ease of navigation, and reduced energy consumption by eliminating unnecessary content and functionalities.
  6. User Preferences: Adhering to users' accessibility preferences, such as reduced motion and dark mode, not only enhances the user experience but also conserves energy.
  7. Alternative, Lighter Content: Opting for alternatives to video content, such as SVG animations and real text descriptions, aligns with both accessibility and energy efficiency goals.
  8. Mobile-First Approach: Sustainability favors a mobile-first approach, as it requires less energy than PC and laptops. In 2022, 58.99% of all web traffic came through mobile phones, making it a primary device for web surfing. This approach is not only sustainable and accessible but also inclusive, catering to people with disabilities and those in developing countries.
  9. Resilience for Any Circumstances: Technological resilience is vital, ensuring access to essential digital services and information during crises. Creating websites and apps that seamlessly operate across various devices enhances accessibility on a broader scale.

The fusion of digital sustainability and accessibility unveils a potent force, reshaping our technological landscape for the better by simultaneously caring for the environment and including everyone in the digital realm. It acts as a transformative power, altering how we utilize technology to usher in positive changes.

Digital sustainability means using digital technology in a way that doesn't harm the environment. This includes using energy-efficient devices, reducing electronic waste, and promoting eco-friendly practices in the digital industry. On the other hand, accessibility is about making sure that digital technology is available to and usable by everyone, no matter their abilities or disabilities.

When we combine these two ideas, it creates a powerful force for positive change. By caring equally about the environment and making technology accessible to everyone, we can create technology that not only helps the planet but also makes life better for all people, including those with disabilities.

Web accessibility and sustainability extend far beyond mere financial gains, offering a myriad of benefits that enrich businesses and communities alike.

1. Enhanced market reach and consumer base: Businesses that prioritize accessibility are highly valued by people with disabilities, fostering customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth. With approximately 1.3 billion individuals living with some form of disability, focusing on accessibility not only retains customers but also taps into a vast market. The advantages include an expanded market reach and a broader consumer base, as accessible and sustainable websites cater to diverse audiences, ensuring inclusivity and equal access for all.

2. Long-term positive impact on society: Inclusivity not only aligns with ethical business practices but also fosters positive long-term impacts on communities.

3. Increased productivity and innovation: They emerge as natural byproducts, as diverse perspectives and experiences fuel creativity within organizations prioritizing accessibility.

4. Brand loyalty: The positive public perception generated by such initiatives as accessibility and sustainability not only enhances brand loyalty but also contributes to the overall reputation of a company as a socially responsible entity.

I would like to boldly state that there is no sustainable web without accessibility. By prioritizing accessibility, we can create a web that is not only more inclusive and fair, but also more sustainable in the long run. It allows for a larger user base, better user experiences, and it ensures that the web remains relevant and useful for everyone. Without accessibility, we risk limiting the potential of the web and leaving many people behind.

The combination of digital sustainability and accessibility represents a shift towards a more ethical and inclusive approach to technology. It shows that we can use the power of digital innovation to create a better world for both people and the planet. By caring for the environment and ensuring that technology is accessible to all, we can harness a special force that transforms how we use technology for the better.

In conclusion, accessibility is an essential component of a sustainable web. It is not just a moral imperative, but also a practical necessity for the continued growth and relevance of the internet. It is time for businesses, web developers, designers and content creators to take accessibility seriously and prioritize it in their digital strategies. Only then can we truly achieve a sustainable and inclusive web for all.

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