The role UX designers can play in preventing climate change

As our Earth becomes increasingly more affected by climate change, there is a greater need for us as humans to become involved and act quickly. With research predicting we don’t have much more than a decade to drastically change our relationship with our planet, it is not enough to change as individuals. We also need major organizations and companies to commit to making changes. 

One person pledging not to use plastic straws would save about 38,000 straws over the course of 60 years, according to the Be Straw Free Campaign. However when Starbucks decided to eliminate single-use plastic straws, in favor of strawless lids and paper straws, they predicted they would be eliminating the waste of 1 billion plastic straws per year. Per year! 

Now of course Starbucks, like the other corporations we’re depending on to make a change, is a business. And businesses need to keep their customers happy and excited about their products. Enter, user experience! 

Let’s go over a few ways your organization can become more digitally sustainable while improving the interactions people have with your online environment at the same time.

Some people assume that because they are using the internet instead of printed documents they are automatically being environmentally friendly. That’s not actually true. Though printing can take a lot of energy and using paper can cause waste, online sites still release greenhouse gases and add to our carbon footprint. 

Data from the internet is stored in “data centers” which are buildings that hold computer systems and servers and allow your digital information to be accessible. These systems are on 24/7 and need air conditioning to prevent overheating, so a space dedicated to running these systems uses a lot of energy. Unfortunately many data centers are run on non-renewable energy.  

These centers are a large part of why the internet’s carbon footprint is so huge. Some companies, Google being a prime example, have switched to data centers that are run on renewable energy to cause less harm to the environment. By being environmentally conscious and making changes like this, Google has been carbon neutral since 2007. 

Another way to be more sustainable with your digital content comes directly from how the website is designed. 

When websites make it difficult for visitors to find what they are looking for, people end up running multiple pages that they do not need, causing energy waste. The same thing happens when a site is set up to distract the user from their original purpose. 

Making simple changes to your site design such as adding a search bar, optimizing your images and selecting simpler and sleeker designs that don’t require numerous JavaScript libraries, will make a big difference. 

In this case, the benefits for the environment as well as web users are linked because less complicated web designs take less time to load and are typically easier to navigate. 

Those two benefits also make your site visitors less likely to leave your page out of frustration which once again means less wasted energy!

Individuals cannot directly change how corporations act on the web. But they can raise awareness about the issue, check to see how green their favorite sites are and try to favor websites that are making an effort to be green.

If you want to work on making your own site more eco-friendly, check out these resources:

Sustainable Business Toolkit

Google Developers — Page Speed Insights