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Digital sustainability is an ongoing journey for businesses, involving a commitment to reducing environmental impact through digital products such as websites or apps, promoting social responsibility, and considering the full life cycle of products or services.

  • Digital solutions and digitalization for sustainability focus on several aspects, like energy efficiency, circular economy, responsible data, e-waste management, digital inclusion and accessibility, and promotion of a sustainable approach.
  • Following six principles: clean, efficient, open, honest, regenerative, and resilient, you can improve sustainability and reduce digital environmental footprint.
  • You can start today to create a more sustainable products with several steps, setting sustainable strategy, environmental goals, and business operations, adopting and using sustainable design and development best practices for digital assets, and measuring the impact of their entire life cycle.

Managing a business today requires juggling many priorities. You always seek improvements in productivity and efficiency at the same time, innovation for your product, and effective marketing, and never forget about people who work together with you to achieve the company’s business goals.

You may feel overwhelmed by a number of factors you must deal with, find the right balance, and follow the right steps at times. You already care about the whole ecosystem of your business, from its final product or service, through the process and the well-being of all people involved. You materialize your effort through strategy, where productivity is never compromised with the comfort of your coworkers, applying equity, equality, and diversity rules into it, caring about work-life balance and the internal culture full of respect.

With all those efforts, including one more stakeholder in this fair-play - environment - can be demanding. Unfortunately, climate change is not a nightmare from which we will wake up in the morning. It is a global challenge for all of us, and business can play a crucial role in this fight for a better tomorrow.Don’t worry. Your efforts don’t have to be only awarded with a pretty diploma that can be hung on the wall. They can become a part of the sustainable business model strategy that will help you offer your customers and employees sustainable values bringing at the same time profit to your organization.

As a sustainable web design agency, we focus mainly on areas like digital sustainability that every company can implement, whether it sells physical products, offers services, represents eCommerce, the technology sector, or has SAAS in its scope. It is not only a matter of producing apps, web apps, digital services, and used digital devices but all digital activities businesses do. So, let’s discover digital sustainability and how every prospering business can implement it into its digital presence and actions.

The definition of digital sustainability evolved from the focus on preserving and maintaining digital content (Bradley, 2007) to all organizational efforts directed at advancing sustainable development goals through the use, creation, transmission, or sourcing of electronic data (George et al., 2020).

To keep this meaning concise:

With digital sustainability in mind, digital technology and resources are produced, stored, transferred, and managed in a way that minimizes their negative impact on the environment while promoting their long-term availability and accessibility. It can be treated as a sub-branch of digital transformation where firms aim to reach their sustainability goals by utilizing technologies and promoting a digital economy. By leveraging digital transformation tools, like enhanced connectivity and IoT, companies can support sustainable operations and improve the environment.

There are several aspects of digital environmental sustainability that each company can encompass:

  • Energy efficiency: Mostly not related to digitality which is stereotypically treated as an immaterial matter. But digital systems and infrastructure, as generated digital content, including its design, development, and hosting, require energy. We can switch to digital technologies to be more energy-efficient as an organization. By optimizing their design, usage of hardware and software, and power generated by data centers, choosing green hosting, we can reduce the need for power consumption and, this way, the amount of generated greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Circular economy: By encouraging the adoption of the circular economy model or other approaches to sustainable business models, companies can design digital products and services focusing on their whole life cycle and components, mitigating the environmental impact of their entire value chain. Digital sustainability considers the ability to reuse, repair, and prolong their life. Businesses can reduce resource consumption and waste generation by properly creating, storing, and managing.
  • Responsible Data Practices: Organizations often deal with the problem of data management. Research shows that only 1% of created data at the companies are reviewed and analyzed in terms of their usability, validity, duplication, and necessity. According to Datamation:

Data centers are filled with so-called dark data that are redundant and never used. Unlike physical archives that have their capacity and require frequent revision and cleaning, data centers seem infinite, collecting all data we generate without its analysis. Digital doesn't constantly encourage us to monitor what we put into our digital lives. However, not used digital data still need energy to store them. Responsible data management not only promotes the validation of data, better organizing of them, or just removing once redundant. Through digital sustainability, it advocates for ethical and secure data collection, storage, and use. It encourages transparency, follows privacy regulations, protects individuals' rights, and mitigates potential harm.

  • E-waste management: Digital sustainability also incorporates the management of devices and technology for digital data translation, communication, and storage. Those are computers, mobile phones, servers, and printers, among many others. With its principles, businesses can focus more on electronic waste generated by disposing of outdated or broken digital devices. Responsible purchasing, recycling, refurbishing, and disposal can minimize environmental harm.
  • Digital inclusion and accessibility: Sustainability is not only about the environment. It is also about people and society as a whole. So digital sustainability will also ensure that all people and possible users can access equitably produced by our digital technologies and support it by bridging the digital divide. Thanks to the implementation of accessibility and an empathy-first approach to the design and development of digital products, businesses can create better user experiences, reduce disparities in digital access and literacy, fight discrimination on many levels, and enable everyone to benefit from the functionalities and content offered by digital tools and services.
  • Ethical AI and Automation: With the rise of AI tools and solutions provided with this technology, it will be crucial for sustainable businesses to advocate for the development and deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation systems that align with ethical principles, fairness, accountability, and transparency.
  • Awareness and education: Conscious companies incorporating digital sustainability into their strategy can raise awareness on these topics between their customers, employers, and other stakeholders. Promotion of knowledge about sustainable solutions can empower their companies, show their responsible approach, and strengthen their brand, showing their care about responsible actions in the physical and digital realms. By integrating these principles into digital practices, organizations, and individuals can contribute to a more sustainable digital ecosystem that minimizes negative environmental impacts, supports social well-being, and ensures a healthier and more inclusive digital future.

A sustainable digital product is designed and developed to minimize its negative environmental impact while promoting its long-term availability and accessibility. Businesses and individuals can achieve sustainability with six principles invented by several digital experiences creators and promoted on the "Sustainable Web Manifesto" website. Let's explain those principles more profoundly and how we can apply them to creating sustainable digital products and services.

The clean principle means we take care of the energy used to run data centers and servers. In most cases, we can choose if they use renewable energy or traditional comes from burning fossil fuels. By supporting those more ecological solutions in energy production, we also make our digital products more sustainable.

The efficient principle focuses on how the products are designed, optimized, and developed. It is possible to create them in a way that makes them efficient with less amount of required energy. It is also about choosing their components, using open-source materials, and creating well-documented design systems that help later to reduce the energy needed to rebuild something recently done.

The open principle promotes the accessibility of the product. Sustainable products are created this way and do not exclude anyone from their usage. That means they designed it in an inclusive and accessible way, allowing usage with people with disabilities, a different part of the world, and with low-band mainly using the web through their mobile phones. The open product also includes DEI principles (diversity, equity, inclusion) in its form and content. The openness of sustainable products also shows transparency in some data usage and respect for user privacy. It can be achieved by controlling their data and receiving information about important sustainable values for the company, such as privacy, ethics, or sustainability policies.

The honest principle encourages business leaders, product owners, designers, and developers to follow fair-play rules. It is about not hiding vital information and misleading users with dark patterns. Honest approach popularize informing users about crucial changes and events, treating users as partners in creating the best user experience.

The regenerative principle represents a holistic approach to sustainability that integrates insights from science and practice, different ways of knowing, and inner and outer dimensions necessary for realizing systemic change. Ecologically friendly and efficient systems can be developed through regenerative design that actively enhances natural ecosystems and restores their energy and material sources.

The resilient principle highlights the importance of creating products that last, are future-proof, and work for all people, regardless of their living conditions, devices, or connections. Sustainable, resilient digital products oppose consumption hunger, the need to redesign something, buy something new, and constantly update, causing a massive carbon footprint, forcing people to buy new devices and digital products, generating a lot of e-waste and data that are never used again.

To sum up, what makes a digital product sustainable? It is the results of the efforts of mindful and knowledgeable business representatives that see the broader picture of relations between their goals, people, and the planet. They believe creating a harmonious system that doesn't harm any of its components is achievable.

Sustainable digital products require integration and synchronization in actions, from management, through design, development, and operation of digital products. By this holistic approach, they can minimize digital products' negative social and environmental impact and maximize their positive contributions. In the long run, even if we care about the planet, it is all about us, people, current and future generations, and how we see our impact on their lives.

By a responsible approach to sustainable development strategy and creating sustainable digital products, we are committed to a global movement that not only improves the future of people and the whole environment but also preserves it and give them a chance to exist at all in the future.

There are several points that every business can start while thinking about switching to more sustainable solutions. Here are the steps to make products with sustainable, positive impacts.

  • Sustainability goals Each business that wants to grow sustainably needs to create a strategy for all current and future actions. It should be a well-thought roadmap when the team sets the sustainability goals. It can focus on some particular aspects of sustainability that are most relevant to the character provided by your products or services. They should align with your overall strategy, business values, and objectives, which should also include a review if it is consistent with them.
  • Environmental impact assessment Each strategy and action should also be started with an evaluation of the current environmental and social impact of the product - which can help you define what are the areas where you can make improvements - it is energy efficiency, e-waste, resource consumption, better data documentation, and analysis, personal data privacy and protection, accessibility, social equity or all of them? Such assessments can help structure the stable baseline for measuring future progress and guiding all design and development decisions. You can start, for example, by measuring the current website carbon footprint of your web or app and then go with other digital activities and digital technology you use at your company.

Create a multidisciplinary team of people who understand the importance of sustainability to stop climate change and save the planet. It makes no sense to force people to do something differently. Find a time to involve people and talk with them about the necessity of sustainable development and design matter. Encourage them to do their regular jobs while simultaneously demonstrating the deeper meaning of doing good together and making a positive difference.

The multidisciplinary team involved in sustainable digital actions should include designers, developers, product managers, and sustainability experts. This collaboration across different disciplines will help ensure that sustainability considerations are integrated into all stages of product development.

Educate or employ sustainable designers and developers, or whole sustainable design agencies such as Dodonut, who help organizations to implement digital sustainability, who know how to choose sustainable solutions, tools and have digital skills to create sustainable digital products. There are several resources, books, and even courses where they can learn it or simply find a company or agency that already knows it and can help them achieve their sustainability goals.

In the sustainable UX process, UX designers design digital experiences to minimize their negative impact on the environment while promoting their long-term availability and accessibility. They can do it by optimizing the user journey and user flow, making them pleasant, best-guided users to the point their want to reach, examining and removing any unnecessary actions, and review carefully pain points that could unnecessarily lengthen the time spent by users on the website or app searching for their goal.

In their sustainable practice, UX designers should also optimize their design process by choosing components for wireframing created in libraries, following verified screen views, functions, and user flows, and making them recognizable and familiar to users. Sustainable UX promotes minimalist design principles, striving for simplicity and efficiency. This includes reducing cognitive load, eliminating unnecessary features, prioritizing essential information, and designing clean interfaces that are intuitive to use. Sustainable UX reduces energy consumption and improves user experience by avoiding design clutter.

Sustainable designers also design a digital product to be accessible and used by many users with diverse abilities. They follow accessibility guidelines, provide alternative text for images, ensure keyboard navigation, check the appropriacy of the contrast, and test for usability by individuals with disabilities, among other accessibility good practices. They all should aim to prioritize inclusivity and consider the needs of all potential users no matter what is their ability, age, gender, and conditions in which they use the web.

Sustainable UX also leverages persuasive design techniques to encourage sustainable behaviors and choices. This includes designing interfaces promoting energy conservation, waste reduction, or sustainable lifestyle choices. For example, the app for ordering food can propose a function for users to resign from single-use cutlery. Sustainable UX contributes to positive environmental and social impacts by positively influencing user behavior.

Sustainable designers know that creating beautiful interfaces is not enough while considering their environmental impact. Following a fixed page weight budget with their whole elements, such as imagery, fonts, icons, and buttons, can drive sustainable change.

Sustainable UI designers can optimize images and make well-thought decisions about using animations or videos or resigning from them for lighter and static images. Instead of an all-inclusive mindset with visual noise, they strike the right balance between the attractivity of the interface and its minimalism and simplicity that support the efforts to reduce unnecessary data transfer. Minimalist designs also conserve screen space and reduce the cognitive load on users.

This step is also essential to set up the page weight budget and its smaller parts, for example, the font weight budget. Setting up those boundaries for the used content can help you remind yourself about choosing light weighed elements and minimize energy consumption.

Sustainable visual choices are not only about imagery type and format. It is also about using appropriate colors and contrast ratios that are good for users and reduce energy consumption. UI designers can opt for color palettes that require less energy to render on different devices, for example, resigning from the blue color that requires more energy to be lit up on the screen (or reducing its usage) or applying dark modes to reduce energy usage on OLED or AMOLED screens. These choices contribute to energy efficiency and a more sustainable visual design.

Applying responsiveness to the interface help to ensure users that the website or app they visit is adapted to the devices they use, no matter what model of computer, smartphone, or tablet they use.

Sustainable UI is also about accessible visual solutions applied to the whole approach or incorporating ethical content representation by selecting images that promote diversity, inclusivity, and sustainability. Ethical content representation helps create a positive and responsible digital experience.

Sustainable development can also contribute to minimizing digital products' negative impact on the environment. Sustainable developers struggle to optimize the energy consumption of developed websites or apps to reduce their carbon footprint, and this way, make them more environmentally friendly.

Their actions focus on using efficient code practices, like choosing lightweight programming languages, optimizing them, keep them clean. At this step, developers who care about the environment can apply the "zero-waste" and "RRR rule" and reuse previously created code, if possible, to reduce the time and power spent on something already done. They can minimize needed energy by leveraging caching techniques, building static websites like those with headless CMS, and minimizing the resources such as bandwidth, server storage, and database operation.

Sustainable web developers can contribute to sustainability by prioritizing website responsiveness, fast loading, and improving performance. They also significantly impact making a website accessible following WCAG guidelines. Those actions improve user experience by minimizing the time users spend waiting for content to load and reducing carbon emissions by energy production.

A sustainable approach to web development also considers the environmental impact of choices on hosting providers and infrastructure. As developers are more into technical issues, they can check and propose hosting providers run on green, renewable energy and have energy-efficient data centers.

They can also make a digital product more sustainable by considering its future maintenance to make it easy to repair, update or develop, minimizing unnecessary content and code revision.

Similarly, as a project manager that checks the progress and if everything goes with the plan, sustainable managers can keep an eye on sustainable product design process and development to monitor sustainability goals, review them, and propose improvements constantly.

In sustainable management, managers can look for further improvements that minimize the wholly negative impact related to created digital products, such as considering the life cycle of hardware, extending the life of used software, devices, and resources, buying new ones checking if they are created with recyclable materials to reduce to minimal generated e-waste. Advocating for a sustainable strategy for digital products can also include a constant review of all sustainable efforts to minimize the environmental impact of digital technology, including using the carbon offset program, where any generated GHG emissions will be offset by purchasing carbon credits and promoting sustainable projects.

Creating an environment open for collaboration and knowledge sharing between developers, designers, managers, marketers, and owners is crucial in all those actions and steps. They can all share best practices, tools, and resources for creating the best sustainable user experience and eco-digital products.

Sustainability is not a one-time target. It's a path that can start in your business, a challenging but satisfactory journey into creating a mindful brand. By embracing sustainability in your business practices, you are committing to a long-term commitment to reduce your environmental impact, promote social responsibility, and contribute to the future generations' well-being. It is not just about achieving a set target or obtaining a certification; instead, it is an ongoing effort to improve and innovate continually.

Creating a mindful brand means considering the full life cycle of your products or services, from sourcing raw materials to production, packaging, distribution, and disposal. It involves being conscious of the resources you use, the waste you generate, and your operations' impact on the environment and society.Adopting sustainable practices in your business can bring numerous benefits. Building a culture that values sustainability throughout your organization will encourage innovation and foster a shared commitment.

Regularly measure and monitor your progress towards sustainability goals. This will enable you to track your improvements, identify areas for further development, and communicate your achievements transparently. Education and promotion of the importance of digital sustainability are leading the way toward a sustainable future. Marketing communications about your sustainability initiatives will help to raise awareness and inspire others to follow suit.

Remember, sustainability is not an endpoint but a continuous process. Adapt to changing circumstances, remain open to new opportunities, and embrace sustainability as your brand's core value. Doing so can contribute to a greener future while creating a meaningful and fulfilled business journey. By integrating a digital sustainability framework into every aspect of digital product development and operation, businesses can contribute to a more sustainable future for their customers and planet, creating sustainable value and maintaining a competitive edge.

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