#10 Building sustainable websites with WordPress

In this episode, we were joined by Tom Greenwood, Hannah Smith and Jack Lennox to discuss the environmental impact of our work and what we can do to make our WordPress websites more sustainable.

WP Café
#10 Building sustainable websites with WordPress
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In this episode, we were joined by Tom Greenwood, Hannah Smith and Jack Lennox to discuss the environmental impact of our work and what we can do to make our WordPress websites more sustainable.

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Show sponsor

The DeployHQ logo

This episode is sponsored by DeployHQ.

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We have used DeployHQ for a number of years now, integrating it with our Github repositories to automatically push code to different servers based on different branches.

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I really like the fact that each project can have multiple servers and you can even group servers together. Also you can even run scripts and build processes when code is deployed, something which although I don’t use I know is super important to lots of developers.

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Transcript

Mark Wilkinson:

And we’re live. Hello, and welcome to episode number 10 of the WP Café show. Where we chat to WordPress professionals about practical solutions for solo and small WordPress development teams. If this sounds like you and you don’t want to miss out on a single value packed episode of WP Café, then subscribe right now to the Highrise Digital YouTube channel. We also release lots of WordPress development videos which we hope you’ll find useful. You should find the subscribe button somewhere around the screen. We have some podcast news as well. Check out the WP Café podcast on Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher. Where you will find this episode shortly after we have finished today. And you can also, obviously listen to the past episodes on your favorite podcast. We’re also on Twitter, so follow us @wpcafeshow for any updates on upcoming shows as well as snippets from this show and past shows as well.

Mark Wilkinson:

And we have our first show sponsor, and this episode is sponsored by DeployHQ. DeployHQ is a brilliant and easy way to automatically deploy your code to multiple servers from your repository’s. Now we’ve used DeployHQ for a number of years now, integrating it with our GitHub repositories to automatically push code to different servers based on different branches. It is super easy to set up and it makes automatically deploying code really, really simple. It also means that collaborators, they don’t have to do anything complicated to get involved with your project and to get their code to the servers, they just need to push to the correct branch. Which is really, really simple. I really like the fact that each project can have multiple servers, and you can even group servers together. As well as running scripts and build processes when code is deployed. Not something that I’ve used, but I know it is super important to lots and lots of developers.

Mark Wilkinson:

So the team at WP Café have given us a coupon to use, which is WPCafe. And if you head over to deploy.com and you enter that coupon when you are signing up, then you will get an extra 10 days of your free trial, making it 20 days in total. So you can get a really good flavor of what it’s like. So head over to DeployHQ.com and sign up if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Mark Wilkinson:

Just worth mentioning as well, with today’s episode that DeployHQ also runs on Catapult, which is Crystal’s very own cloud platform. Which is run on 100% renewable energy. In fact, they’ve recently planted over 206,000 trees as part of their environmental commitments. And it’s also a good option for green hosting which is something I’m sure we will talk about later in the show. So thanks again to the team at DeployHQ for sponsoring this episode, and I hope that you head on over there and give them a try.

Mark Wilkinson:

And speaking of sponsors, we’re always on the lookout for new sponsors for the show. So if you’ve got a company or a product or a service that you think would be suitable for our audience, then get in touch with us using Twitter or head on to https://wpcafe.show website and we can have a chat. Anyway, on with today’s show Keith.

Keith Devon:

Yeah. And in this episode we will be talking about building sustainable WordPress websites. We’ll be discussing what sustainable web design is, how we can measure the environmental impact of our websites. And most importantly what we can do as WordPress designers and developers to reduce our impact on the planet. If you’re watching along live on YouTube please say hello. And if you have any questions for our panel, let us know in the comments and we’ll get to those during the course of the show.

Keith Devon:

So joining Mark and I today we have Hannah Smith, Jack Lenox, and Tom Greenwood. All experts on this particular subject and I can’t wait to get stuck in and pick their brains. So first, before we do get stuck into the questions, let’s learn a little bit more about our guests. Hannah, I’ll start with you. Can you tell us who you are? How you’ve ended up being interested in sustainable development and a bit of your back story with WordPress?

Hannah Smith:

Absolutely. Well, hi everyone. My name’s Hannah Smith, I am based in Bristol. I’m a freelance WordPress developer working with mainly SMEs, small to medium size businesses. So not really start-ups, not big businesses, a sort of sweet spot somewhere in the middle. I’ve always been very environmentally minded, for ever. Can’t really ever remember a time when I haven’t felt deeply connected to the environment in some way, shape or form. I actually worked at the Environment Agency for seven years as well, before coming back to being a coder, because actually coding is what I did at uni. I kind of took some time out and went to the Environment Agency for a bit and then came back to being a developer. So that’s a little bit about my background. I think Keith, you said, “Why am I interested in sustainable development?”

Keith Devon:

Yeah.

Hannah Smith:

Or how did I get into it?

Keith Devon:

How did it get on your radar, I guess?

Hannah Smith:

Well, actually it got on my radar because of Tom and Jack. No joke. Both of them were very instrumental in kind of educating me about this subject and kind of making me aware. So Tom came to Bristol WordCamp 2019, which I was the co-lead for. And Tom’s team came and gave a really great talk on sort of green web developments and how to create kind of green themes. So I remember organizing WordCamp Bristol, I was like, “We’re going to be environmentally friendly.” But I’d never really considered that we could have developer topics on it. So I was very focused on making sure the food was vegetarian and trying to encourage everyone to travel sustainably and those sorts of things. So it was actually Tom’s team that came down, kind of totally opened my eyes to this topic. And then followed hot on the heels a couple of months later with Jack, giving his talk at WordCamp, Berlin. And I was like, “Holy-moly. Right, okay. I need to get skilled in this and kind of turn my attention to this.” So thank you Jack and Tom, both of you were really, really instrumental in educating me. So thanks. I feel very honored to be here with both of you today actually.

Keith Devon:

That’s a nice segue into an introduction from Jack, please. Same questions Jack, I guess. So your backstory with WordPress but also with sustainability and kind of how and when they came together for you.

Jack Lenox:

Yeah. So I guess I have something a bit similar to Hannah on that. In that I mean, not an eco warrior in any sense but I think I was sort of brought up, my mum sort of always did all the recycling. And we’d go to the bottle bank and do all that kind of stuff. And so that kind of soft small g, greenness is something I guess that I’ve always kind of had around me. So I’ve just sort of finished, I’ve been working at Automatic for just over seven years and I’m now just in the process of setting up a sort of little consultancy. Hopefully, specializing in kind of low carbon digital… That’s the name of the agency as well, by the way. So that kind of work. So, yeah. That’s kind of my hope.

Jack Lenox:

So how I got into this? Yeah, the two things came together for me in 2017, I think actually after… Well, I’ll let Tom introduce himself. But, yeah. I discovered a talk Tom gave before that. But November 2017 I went to Mozilla Festival. And Mozilla Festival for people who haven’t been is this kind of weird and wonderful conference where there’s sort of a million things happening at once. And there’s sort of literally 70 tracks but a track might be three people sat round a table having a coffee or something. And one of the sessions was building a planet for a new web. And I just thought, “What does that mean? What do you mean a planet for a new web?” I hadn’t really connected these two things in any meaningful sense before that. And so I went along and it was this guy Chris Adams, who I think Hannah and Tom know. Who’s now sort of instrumental in The Green Web Foundation. And, yeah. He sort of gave this presentation that just blew my mind. And talking about the energy use of the internet and the carbon footprint and how it was sort of… The carbon footprint of the information sector was sort of on a par with air travel.

Jack Lenox:

I just couldn’t believe it, it was just the most incredible revelation for me. And I just thought, “Does anyone in the WordPress world talk about this? Is this something that anyone’s aware of? Or is this something that anyone so far has spoken about?” And I found a talk from Tom, which was given a bit ahead. I think Tom you gave a sort of flash talk at a big WordCamp, I think it was WordCamp Europe. But, yeah. I guess that kind of leads us into Tom. But, yeah. So I then learnt some stuff from Tom. And, yeah. And since then it’s just been sort of getting the word out and evangelizing about it.

Keith Devon:

That’s great. So, yeah. We’re moving beautifully upstream towards Tom here. Hannah, you had a quick question for Jack, I think?

Hannah Smith:

Only to say that the Mozilla Festival is live this week actually.

Jack Lenox:

Of course.

Hannah Smith:

It just happened to be, I think yesterday that it started and there’s some really cool more eco friendly green web kind of sessions happening. One particularly with Michelle Thorne, who I’ve got a bit of a girl crush on. She’s awesome. So, yeah. Just wanted to mention that.

Keith Devon:

If anyone has a link to any of that, that they could throw in the comments, that would be amazing. I’ll try to dig it out if nobody else can. But, yeah. We’ve kind of gone upstream like you said towards Tom. So Tom, can you please answer the same questions? What’s your background with WordPress? What’s your background with sustainability? And how did they come together?

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah, sure. I mean, just quickly before I do just touching on MozFest. I’m also running a session tomorrow with Gauthier Roussilhe on making sustainability mainstream in the digital sector. So completely non-technical session, really looking at how we can kind of make it more of a mainstream part of our culture within digital. So that should be fun.

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah. So how did I get into this? So I mean, to introduce myself. I run an agency called Wholegrain Digital, which is a WordPress agency that my wife and I, Vineeta and I, have been running since 2007. But my interest in the environment, a bit like Hannah and Jack, kind of goes before my involvement in digital really. When I was at university I studied product design, it was industrial product design and I was kind of really concerned about the environmental impact of products in manufacturing and energy use and the waste that they create at the end of life and so on. And so I did my dissertation on sustainable product design, kind of really just gathering all the information I could about how we can make products better. And really I was just sort of looking at digital at that point as kind of possibly one of the ways that we can solve environmental problems by dematerializing products and services and making them disappear and not have any physical impact.

Tom Greenwood:

Somewhere down the line that was kind of part of the reason that I got into digital, was that I thought, “Well, this is a way of actually using kind of design and engineering principles to create useful things that don’t need to be dug out of the ground and then thrown in a big hole in the end.” And then once we started Wholegrain, I sort of blissfully thought that that was it, great. Don’t need to worry about the environment anymore.

Tom Greenwood:

Then I think it was in about 2016 when we started looking at going through The B Corp certification assessment as a company. And part of that assessment is looking at your product and services and how your measuring and kind of reducing the environmental impact of those. And the entire assessment, that part of the assessment is entirely designed around physical products. So as a digital agency we could kind of just skip it. But as we were skipping it, it sort of made us feel a bit uneasy. We were like, “Well, why are we skipping it? We’ve never even really looked at it. Maybe we should skip it but we’ve never really dug into it and had a look.” So that was what really led us to just dig around and find research on, what is the impact of digital? And a bit like Jack said, sort of stumbled across some information about the fact that it is enormous and hardly anybody’s talking about it. And I came across the work of Tim Frick who runs an agency in Chicago called Mightybytes, and he’s really been a pioneer on this. And that was the beginning of our journey and we’ve kind of been going down that track ever since.

Keith Devon:

Great. And at what point, because when you started Wholegrain you weren’t… I mean, personally you were sustainability focused but as a business, that wasn’t something that you were talking about, was it? Or was it? Maybe it was.

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah. It was and it wasn’t. So it was in the sense of the type of projects that we were trying to do and the way that we were trying to run our business. So we were trying to run the business in a sustainable way and we were trying to work with clients that had some sort of positive ethos in terms of what they were trying to achieve in the world. But the digital piece, we were sort of blissfully unaware of until a few years ago. And that’s something that we’ve really brought in strongly over the last few years.

Keith Devon:

Yeah. So you were wanting to work with environmentally minded companies, but you weren’t at that point so actually focused on the work that you were delivering being sustainable.

Tom Greenwood:

Exactly.

Keith Devon:

Okay. Yeah, cool. Mark, you have a question?

Mark Wilkinson:

Yeah. I was just going to say it’s great how you’ve all sort of had this passion for something and found that there’s just nothing happening in a space. And then you’ve just gone ahead and made it happen, which I just think is awesome. Rather than just sitting there and saying, “Well, no ones doing it. Well, nevermind.” You’ve actually gone ahead and thought, “Right, we’ll do it.” And that’s just great, love it.

Keith Devon:

Yeah, it is. Okay. Let’s get into some of the scary stuff, I think, because we want to keep people engaged in this conversation. And one of the ways to do that I think is to give some scary numbers. And hopefully by the end of the show today we’ll have not maybe eased some of the fears but given some potential solutions. But why is this even a thing? Why should we care? What’s actually going on from a digital point of view? What’s the problem here that you guys are trying to solve, that you care so much about? I’ll go to Jack first for that.

Jack Lenox:

Cool. I mean, that’s a really good question. And it’s a difficult one in a way to answer because this is obviously such a massive sort of moving, almost kind of organic thing the way the web is evolving. The way these companies that operate on it are evolving. It’s sort of a difficult thing to get a handle on. I think probably the crux of the issue comes down to a 19th century economist. So there’s a guy called William Stanley Jevons who I think was one of the worlds first economists, as it were. And he noted that in the 19th century, basically as the methods of burning coal were made more efficient, more coal ultimately was burnt. And so you have this situation where no matter how much more efficient energy production and that sort of thing and steam trains and everything got, we still ended up using much more of this resource. And ultimately, we didn’t know it at the time but sort of causing man made climate change through increases in carbon emissions.

Jack Lenox:

And that’s basically what’s happening with the internet because that’s the kind of classic response. Is that people say, “But the grids getting greener and our laptops are getting more efficient.” Apple keep going on about faster, cleaner. All these new products that come out, they’re faster, they’re better, they’re this, they’re that. But that just means we use more of them. And this can be applied to very recent trends, even in something like lighting. So light bulbs have got much, much, much more efficient in the last 20, 30 years. But what that means is we just use more light bulbs and we light things up even more, and everyone’s got a ring light now. And all this kind of thing that we didn’t used to do. And we ultimately still use more energy on lighting because we just do more of it with more efficient light bulbs.

Jack Lenox:

So that I think, is kind of where the problem is at because you look at all these devices. Yes, they’re getting better but also, everything is sort of doubling. So we’ve gone from HD to 4K to 8K. And you can sit and watch a TV series in 8K on a bus on your phone over 5G. Again, all these networks. 5G it can transmit data more efficiently than 4G, but that doesn’t mean that we’re going to therefore have an energy reduction because we’re just going to use more of these resources.

Keith Devon:

Yeah, of course.

Jack Lenox:

And I think that really is the route of the challenge that we face as people working on the web. And it’s a very difficult one I think in terms of how we tackle it because people don’t want to be told, they don’t want to hear that we need to use less of these things, and that you can’t watch Breaking Bad on the bus. These kind of things. I’m not saying that that’s necessarily the answer either, I’m not saying we need to start this kind of Luddite thing that we go round smashing up phones and data centers. But, yeah. I might sort of leave it there and let the others carry on but I think for me, that’s the crux of the issue.

Keith Devon:

That’s great. Thanks. Mark, did you have something? Your hands-

Mark Wilkinson:

Yeah. I was just going to say, because for years I was told, we were told, going digital and getting rid of the paper is the way to go. And I think some people might think there’s a mixed message there, isn’t there? Well, hang on, we were told to do this and now we’re being told that it’s not the right thing to do. I just wondered if there’s any comment on that also from anybody?

Hannah Smith:

I’ll jump in there, if that’s all right with everyone else? We’re terribly polite aren’t we? I love it. I think it’s an interesting one Mark, because actually I remember being at the Environment Agency, which is a big public sector organization, 10, 12 thousand people. And I remember there, loads of efforts about use less paper because papers physical. You can see it in front of you. And I think for me the message it’s subtly different. It’s yes, digital is i think, better than paper. If you have a task and you need to do it, it is better to do it digitally than on paper. But that doesn’t mean its impact free and that doesn’t mean it’s sustainable in its own rights. There’s still a cost.

Hannah Smith:

There’s a cost to everything that we do. And I think we now have the information about what that cost is, it’s more clear to us. Tom mentioned finding information four or five years ago. There’s a lot more talks, news articles, it’s being picked up in the mainstream now about the environmental impact of digital. So I hope it’s not a missed mixed message, it’s perhaps more of just a clarification of yeah, it’s better but it’s still not without impact.

Mark Wilkinson:

Yeah. I think you’ve just clarified it, which is good.

Hannah Smith:

Yeah. I know, I’ve been wrestling with that one for a while as well.

Keith Devon:

Tom, you recently wrote a book and it’s just been published, in some of the opening-

Tom Greenwood:

Thank you, Jack.

Jack Lenox:

Hey.

Mark Wilkinson:

I feel really bad now, I haven’t got one.

Keith Devon:

It’s great, I’m halfway through it. It arrived last week and it’s great. In some of the opening chapters you talk about some of these numbers, I don’t know if you’ve to any at the top of your head? There was something for example about the internet if it was a country it would be the eighth biggest polluter or something. Did I get that right? Or are there any other numbers like that that we can throw at people just to kind of prick their ears up a little bit?

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah. I mean, that’s it. So if you look at the total energy consumption of the while internet as a sort of global machine then you’re looking at roughly the same carbon emissions as Germany. Germany currently I think, is the seventh biggest polluter in the world as a country. So that’s pretty shocking in itself, but then also you compare it to the aviation industry which is something that I think most of us quite tangibly grasp. So okay aviation, flying has big impact on climate change. But actually, the aviation industry is probably, thanks in part to the pandemic it’s probably actually lower in emissions than digital now. They were roughly even pre pandemic. And obviously, we’ve reduced air travel and we’ve massively increased our use of digital over the last 12 months. So I think it’s probably fair to say that digital is now a more polluting industry than aviation. So if we think that aviation needs to take its carbon footprint seriously, and I think most people agree with that. Then I think that it’s only fair that we say the same for the digital sector.

Keith Devon:

Yeah. Is it potentially safe to say, aside from the pandemic… So if we were having this conversation at the start of 2020, that the change in digital is probably exponential. Whereas aviation was maybe a bit flatter so that if you extrapolate this forward a few years, I’m imagining that if things continue in the current trends, digital’s going to just shoot up those rankings?

Tom Greenwood:

Absolutely. I mean, digital was on track to overtake aviation pretty soon anyway just because the global hunger for digital services is growing so fast. Not just kind of in the West, in the increasing use of streaming TV services and so on. But also just the number of people globally that are gaining access to the internet. And like Jack said, gaining access to faster connections. Which means, that they consume more, they integrate it more into their daily lives. And, yeah. So digital is kind of rising rapidly.

Keith Devon:

Yeah. Hannah.

Hannah Smith:

Yes. I’ve got a good stat for that. This actually comes from ClimateAction.tech which is an organization I’m really involved with as a volunteer. And on their homepage they’ve got, “If we continue business as usual the IT sector will be responsible for 14% of the worlds carbon emissions by 2040.” 14%. That is bonkers, bonkers amount.

Mark Wilkinson:

And as a reference, what’s aviation at the moment?

Jack Lenox:

Two.

Mark Wilkinson:

2%. Right, yeah. Wow.

Keith Devon:

Oh, wow.

Mark Wilkinson:

People would never have thought that.

Tom Greenwood:

You’d never guess that, would you?

Mark Wilkinson:

Yeah.

Hannah Smith:

But the interesting thing with aviation is that there’s this whole thing around inequality that’s wrapped up with aviation. And think it does deserve the laser focus that it’s had because there’s such a small minority of the worlds population that get to enjoy the benefits of aviation. Digital’s a little different because it’s more accessible to all. So I’m always a bit, yeah. I think Jack said at the beginning, didn’t you? We don’t want to be Luddites and sort of go round smashing up phones because digital is amazing, it’s incredible of what it can do. But, yeah. There is a kind of…

Keith Devon:

Yeah. I know there’s hopefully, potentially the answer to at least some of these… Or the medium to reach the answer to some of these questions, I hope. Or some of these challenges. Okay. So we’ve got a big problem on our hands and I think it’s clear that as an industry we need to start looking at ourselves a little bit. Whereas before we could think, “Well, we’re not in a kind of polluting industry.” I think these days we need to look at that again and realize that we really are. And the problems getting worse and worse.

Keith Devon:

So what can we do about it? Can we really make a difference as humble WordPress designers and developers? If so, how? So first up, can we make a difference? Can Mark and I, if we start building more sustainable websites, what kind of impact can we have? Jack, go to you first for that.

Jack Lenox:

Yeah, sure. Well, so yeah. I think we can, I think is the answer. And I think the good news as well is that although I think we started this session with me talking about attending MozFest and sort of feeling like this wasn’t an issue that’s being grasped really in any major sense. But actually, it sort of is. And I think some of the big tech companies, I have other ethical objections to some of the ways that the tech companies operate. But a company like Google has been doing a lot on this for a very long time. And the other sort of useful thing is, I suppose, is that one of the sort of joint trends with sustainability on the internet which I think is very good for the sustainability of the internet, is performance. And the focus that people are moving onto on internet performance because we’re increasingly realizing that… I mean, we’ve probably have known for quite a long time but the internet I would say, as a thing, is increasingly sort of shifting towards kind of wanting sort of more minimal web experiences.

Jack Lenox:

And Google are prioritizing better performing websites, the faster your website loads, the fewer the assets it loads with. And obviously all of the stuff that’s been happening now with performance audits and all the stuff you can do with browser tools and with coverage tests and all this kind of thing. To see if you’re loading JavaScript unnecessarily and all that sort of thing. That all kind of marries together really well.

Jack Lenox:

Something even that I’ve been looking at very recently that sort of passed me by is this sort of new trend of algorithmic design. Which allows you to write sort of much more minimal CSS. There’s a Heydon Pickering, who I’m a big fan of and I use some of his stuff when I worked on this little theme I made while ago. Him and this guy Andy Bell have been doing a lot of work on this idea, there’s a website every-layout.dev. It’s every-layout.dev. And that’s just fantastic because it’s not using any… The way that you can build quite complex designs with just a few lines of CSS is great. And I think what we’re seeing is increasingly… And even things like AMP, for what it’s worth. Again, I have some objections with AMP but the way that these ideas are evolving is very good for the impact we can have.

Jack Lenox:

And then I think certainly in the WordPress space, I think our impact is potentially enormous because we are part of a community that produces a CMS that’s powering almost 40% of the internet. So actually there are so many marginal gains that we can make. And there’s the great post by Danny van Kooten about his plugin… Which one is it? But, yeah. Basically, he made some modifications to his plugin and was able to… And lots of people use his plugin. And the improvements he’s been able to make, he can measure a massive reduction in sort of associated emissions from that plugin. So if we’re plugin developers or we’re theme developers, there’s a huge impact we can have if our products are popular and people are using them a lot.

Jack Lenox:

So actually, yeah. I think there’s a hell of a lot in that and there’s a lot we can do. Although I think it’s important also to sort of emphasize that we aren’t going to save the planet by improving the compression algorithms on our images and stuff. I think there’s a huge policy part that also this in to this. And part of the Internets carbon footprint is to with the greenness of our grids. And renewable energy hasn’t been developed quickly enough by governments globally. Obviously, we’ve had all sorts of obstructions put in the way by fossil fuel companies and other sort of… There’s a massive fight going on. I mean, it’s directly coupled to the impact that we have as digital kind of workers. I don’t want to say too much. I might stop there and let some one else carry on with a different perspective.

Keith Devon:

Mark, jump in.

Mark Wilkinson:

Yeah, I’ve never thought what Jack’s mentioned about some of the big popular plugins. Some of them on the WordPress.org plugin repository, they have over a million. I mean, they could have more than that, they could have three million, four million installs. And I guess, one change that halves the size of a request there it’s just got a gigantic impact on everyone that uses that plugin. So I never thought that before, that’s really got me thinking the impact that could make. Could be huge.

Keith Devon:

Tom.

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah. I forgot what I was going to say. I know what I was going to say. Jack earlier was talking about the Jevons paradox, where as things become more efficient we end up using more of them. And I think that applies on the one hand to kind of just the general pubic and our consumption of resources. But it also applies to how we actually design and engineer products and services. And I think you can see that in the digital sector with the way that actually as the internet itself, as an infrastructure, has become more efficient in terms of computing power, the speed of networks. The efficiency of the actual products we build to put on the internet have sort of reduced.

Tom Greenwood:

And Norman Neilson did a report, I was looking at a graph yesterday where they plotted the average load time of websites over the last 10 years versus average internet speeds. And the average internet speeds have sort of rocked up and while they’ve rocketed up the average load time of a website has marginally got slower over the last 10 years. Where it should have proportionally gone down, right? And I think it is this sort of Jevons paradox where it’s not just we use digital services more, it’s also that we think, “Well, now that Internets so much faster I don’t need to optimize my code as much and I can out in bigger images and I can have an auto play video on the homepage.” These sort of things where we don’t need to try as hard to make things efficient because the infrastructure itself is a constantly getting faster. But then people aren’t really getting the benefit of it because we’re kind of eroding the efficiency in our work. And your question about, can we do anything about it? I think that that’s a big role that we can play is actually allowing people to enjoy the benefits of these efficiency gains, by making sure that our work is efficient.

Keith Devon:

That’s great. I just wondered just while everyone was talking there, is there a team? Is there a sustainability team on the WordPress project? No.

Hannah Smith:

I don’t think there is. I know Aba has been doing quite a lot to sort of try and get conversations going around that, but no. I don’t think there is. And Jack’s initial point was, WordPress powers 40% of the internet. What are we doing here people?

Keith Devon:

Exactly. And I think that that’s really exciting, isn’t it? As WordPress developers, that we’re part of something that we can make a massive change to millions and millions of websites, and millions and millions of people. Yeah, that’s food for thought, for sure. That’s really interesting. Okay.

Hannah Smith:

Just on that point, Keith. Sorry, so we’ve got WordPress 5.7 due for release today? Imminent, anyway. And just talking about one of those little changes that’s in there. So I believe that WordPress 5.7 will lazy load iPhones. Now that’s not perfect if you actually look into the details, there’s lots of kind of caveats and issues around that working. It’s not going to lazy load every iPhone. But just talking about the kind of massive impact, wouldn’t it be so cool if we could calculate how much carbon that saved by the iPhones that are now being lazy loaded?

Keith Devon:

Exactly, yeah.

Hannah Smith:

We need a sustainability team in WordPress to be taking those kind of messages out there and saying, “This is what it means folks. This is why it matters.” As we all know this stuff’s really hard to calculate, super hard. So I wouldn’t want that job.

Keith Devon:

Speaking of calculating things, how would one go about testing the impact of their own website? I’m going to go to Tom for that.

Hannah Smith:

I wonder why?

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah. Well, it’s an interesting question. So I mean, this is the question that we really came about a few years ago when we were saying, “Well, okay. Now we know that digital has an impact how do we actually quantify it in our own work?” Rather than just say the internet as a whole has a big impact, how do we look at it? And so we developed a carbon calculator that there’s a simple version of online at websitecarbon.com. Where you can put in a URL and test it. And that’s essentially based on page weight, So the amount of data transferred. And whether or not you’re using a green host in terms of the data center using renewable energy. And those are kind of the two metrics that are easily available to make some sort of estimation with.

Tom Greenwood:

I think once you go down the rabbit hole of actually trying to get into the nitty-gritty of all the different variables, you quickly have a nervous breakdown and realize that this is a very, very complex problem to really calculate this stuff accurately. And even in terms of just using those two relatively simple metrics, even using those you have to have some way of working out the actual energy consumption based upon the amount of data transfer. And currently estimates for that vary wildly and the methodology’s for calculating those estimates vary wildly within the academic community. And I think that’s something that will change fairly soon, I think there’s a lot of people now kind of looking at it and wanting to create some sort consensus but there is lack of consensus at the moment.

Tom Greenwood:

That makes it very difficult to really confidentially say in the way that you would for driving a car a mile down the road. You could say “Okay, this car with this fuel efficiency produces this many grams of CO2 per mile.” Or you could say “Flying from London to Munich has this many kilograms of CO2.” Those estimations, those calculations are quite easily available and there’s a high degree of confidence in them. Whereas if you said, “Okay, this web page has one gram of CO2 per page view or something.” There’s a lot of people that would strongly debate that, some people would say, “It’s not one gram it’s five grams.” And there’s other people that would say, “It’s not one gram it’s 0.1 gram.” Those are wide ranges that we’re dealing with. So in simple terms to answer your question I think the easiest metrics you can use are, is the data center using renewable energy? Because that effects the carbon intensity of the electricity. That’s one part we can look at. And the amount of data transfer per page view. Kind of two easy metrics but there is a lot of variables beyond that. And I think it’s good to be transparent about it.

Keith Devon:

Cool. Just before we jump to Mark. You do have a tool online, what is that? What’s the URL for that tool?

Tom Greenwood:

Yes. So that’s websitecarbon.com. And it’s a free tool you can just pop a web address in and it gives you an estimate.

Keith Devon:

Yeah, great. Mark, did you have a question?

Mark Wilkinson:

I was just going to ask, is it the amount of data being transferred that is directly proportional to the energy use? But I think you mentioned it in your last comment, you kind of said the two things at the end. So I think that makes sense.

Keith Devon:

Yeah. So Tom mentioned there that it’s not just those things that have an impact on the sustainability of any given website, those just happen to be two kind of the easier to measure. Jack, in what other ways does a website impact the environment?

Jack Lenox:

Well, yeah-

Keith Devon:

You don’t need to give them all.

Jack Lenox:

There’s a lot. I mean, well, actually it’s interesting because one thing that I think I’ve even… There’s a bit of this view spout that I’ve spoken to Tom about in the past is, something I’ve kind of been interested in and I feel it’s one of the things it’s really hard to measure right now. Is the impact of the actual the way that we’re writing code and what we’re telling the browser to do. Because I’m sure among all of us on this call, you know how to build a website that would run a phone battery flat in an hour. If we added lots of CSS animations and we did all sorts of… We know how to get the fans going on a computer and make it run itself flat. And that’s really difficult to measure and as Tom said that’s not really part of what website carbon… Well, it’s not part of what Website Carbon does. And that’s something I’ve become sort of very acutely aware of.

Jack Lenox:

I’m sort of very interested in animation performance and I’ve done quite a lot of work on that. And at WordPress.com, this new dashboard Calypso that was built as a sort of decoupled admin to WordPress for WordPress.com. I have a lot of problems with that, the minute you hit the dashboard… This is a few years ago now, it’s a lot better these days. But the fans would start on my computer and you think, “What’s happening? I’m just sort of editing a post and my CPU usage has gone to 100%. What’s going on?” And I think this is something that because browsers have become so much more powerful and because we can now take advantage of WebGL, and all of these weird and wonderful things that can make these incredible experiences in the browser. Those things also have a huge impact.

Jack Lenox:

And of course, the other part of that I guess you could say in terms of very popular usage is video. Video now is a huge part of the internet and that’s a really tricky one because there’s no easy way, if someone wants to watch TV at 4K definition over Netflix or something, that sort of thing is sort of out of the hands in a way of a web developer. It’s quite difficult. We could make the delivery a bit more efficient and Netflix, again, they do focus on these things because it’s also good for their back pocket. It’s expensive to serve lots of data. So, yeah.

Jack Lenox:

That’s something I think is an interesting thing to look at is, what are you telling the browser to do and what impact can that have? And that’s something, you can measure that. It’s actually easier to measure on something like a laptop, anything that has a battery will typically have a tool where you can look at how much energy you’re using effectively you can… I’ve forgotten the name. There’s a utility in Ubuntu which allows you to do it on a Linux laptop. And obviously phones do this, they’ll measure. And certainly, my experience might be the same as others, I’ve found if you look at the battery profiling on your phone, browsers are now the number one thing that kills the battery on your phone. And when I remember first getting a smart phone maybe 10 years ago, that wasn’t the case. It was these apps that we would use and these things that would do location in the background. So, yeah. Performance in that sense is another thing. I’ll stop there.

Keith Devon:

Mark and Tom, you both have something. Mark, you had your hand up first there, I think.

Mark Wilkinson:

I was just going to mention about the number of actual physical devices that we all have because we’re accessing the internet. I remember watching one of Hannah’s talks and you were talking about devices. I don’t know whether it’s worth coming to Hannah? But I know Tom wants to come in, so I’ll let him do that.

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah. I was just going to pick up on what Jack was saying, just to say that the Safari browser has an energy impact tool built in. So it will show you the CPU usage, which is quite nice when you’re wanting to test different CSS animations and things like this. And actually learn, what impact does this have if I just have the page without the animations and then I add them in? What impact is that having? So that’s quite nice. But it’s also as Mark said, I think the actual devices themselves are actually probably the single biggest impact in terms if you look at the materials usage, the mining, the energy in production, the energy of transporting them from the factory in the Far East to the people around the world who are buying them. And then throwing them away after often two or three years.

Tom Greenwood:

And that’s not just end user devices that’s also servers and data centers which tend to come with three year warranties. And data centers don’t like running servers out of warranty. So a lot of them get replaced very, very quickly even if they’re perfectly functional. So I think the actual hardware has a huge impact. And although it’s easy to say, “Well, that’s a issue for the hardware industry.” It kind of is, but it goes back to this issue of feature creep. And as we’re making things more and more intensive in terms of the type of processing that we may need, people need to buy a new phone every few years because the one they bought three years ago can’t handle all the animations and things that we’re layering in. So we do have a responsibility in terms of creating that demand for ever increasing performance of devices.

Keith Devon:

Hannah.

Hannah Smith:

Yeah. I’m really glad that we brought up the topic of devices because actually research shows that when we talk about embodied carbon, maybe we should just mention what that means. So when you create something basically, in the process of manufacturing it you release a certain amount of carbon emissions and that becomes embodied carbon. So just by simply owning a phone you are responsible for a huge amount of carbon emissions. And research says that between 70 to 90% of all the carbon emissions that arise from your phone come from you actually owning it in the first place. It’s its manufacturer. So actually just owning these things is massively polluting.

Hannah Smith:

We just don’t talk about it enough, we really, really don’t. Tom made those really good points there about this kind of ever growing features that we’re adding in. I’ve got to wonder, at what point do we just say holy… I was going to swear and this is probably PG rated so I won’t do that. But at what point do we say, enough is enough? We can do all this animation stuff, we can serve this stuff, we can provide great search functionality. At what point do we just say that’s enough for the average needs of your average person? And I think that’s a wider societal question, this obsession that we have with growth. It drives me nuts. Why do we think that the economy should grow forever? Why do we think a business should grow forever and its only measure of success is growth? And I do think the tech community has some questions to think about there. Why do we think that growth or adding new features all the time is the right way to go? Why is that a good thing?

Hannah Smith:

Anyway, I just sparked off lots of different things there so I should come back to devices. We should be really careful about the devices that we own. And as developers I think that actually challenging ourselves, do we really, really need the latest MacBook? Do we really, really, really, really need it? Maybe if you’re doing machine learning or intensive AI stuff you might justify it. My Mac here is six years old. I do standard WordPress stuff, so I run some build processes, I have NPM gulp running. This Mac is fine, it works. I could be tempted to buy a new device, of course who doesn’t love shiny? But actually from an environmental perspective it is really the worst thing that I could do, so.

Keith Devon:

Mark, you had something to jump in on there?

Mark Wilkinson:

Yeah. I just think devices, they’ve got a lot harder to fix as well. If you think about a 10 or 12 year old laptop, it had screws on the back and you could get into it and take the battery out and you could do all sorts. My laptop, it’s just completely sealed. I can’t do anything with it. Literally, if it breaks it’s bin it or send it back to where it came from to fix it type thing. And I just wonder whether that’s a problem as well. We don’t fix things so we just have to replace them, which seems a bit of a shame.

Keith Devon:

Jack, I think you had your hand up next.

Jack Lenox:

Yeah, no. I was just going to say, the first thing Hannah was saying got me thinking and then Hannah kind of addressed it. But I was going to say if anyone wants to check it out because it’s very good, Apple with the iPhone 12 have produced this product sort of environmental report. Which is just really interesting to read through and see. But basically exactly what Hannah said is that they estimate that 14% of the emissions come from the use of the iPhone, 83% are the manufacture. And then the little bit in between is transport and everything else. So that’s an incredible thing. Which does kind of then also make what we’re talking about almost seem a bit futile. You see that and you think, “Well, we’re looking at the small bit.”

Jack Lenox:

But another thing I was going to say just on the topic of a little experiment I’ve been doing, I’m not doing it right now. But I’ve been doing it on and off. A really cheap way, if you want to get a sense of trying to develop things in an energy efficient way, buy a Raspberry Pi and use that as your primary computer. Because you can do a hell of a lot and the Raspberry Pi 4 is really good. It’s £35, it’s the cheapest computer you’ll ever buy. But you can run build processes, you can get all your development environment set up and everything. But it’s a very good way of sort of just making yourself reevaluate maybe what sort of things you’re building and how those things work. So that’s just a little tip. So, yeah.

Keith Devon:

Right, Tom.

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah. Hannah made this lovely statement about who doesn’t love shiny new things? And I think that is a big part of the problem that we face sort of culturally as a society. And for those of us that are working in kind of web design and development one of the big challenges is the fact that clients want shiny things. And fair enough, I get it. But when is enough, enough? How do you convince a client that actually they don’t need loads and loads of bells and whistles because actually what the user needs is something simpler and more streamlined. And perhaps something that doesn’t drain their battery and something that they can load faster and use up less of their mobile data and so on. And there’s lots of rational arguments as to why the more efficient approach is the right approach but there’s always this emotional element. That’s like, yeah, but I really want something shiny. And I think that’s the challenge that we face is, how do we give enough of the shiny-ness to make people feel like they really enjoy using things, and it meets their modern expectations of what a web service should be like. Without constantly consuming more and more.

Keith Devon:

Yeah, absolutely. Tom, I definitely want to come back to some of the stuff you touched on there about I think it kind of ties in to convincing not only ourselves but our clients that this is the right way to go. Before that, Mark and Hannah, you both had something to say. Mark.

Mark Wilkinson:

I think my hand is permanently up in Skype and I can’t actually see when it is up. So I have nothing to say, I’m sorry.

Keith Devon:

I’ll just ignore you for the rest of the call.

Hannah Smith:

Mark, [inaudible 00:49:31].

Keith Devon:

Hannah.

Hannah Smith:

Yeah. So I wanted just to sort of talk about this device stuff and server stuff. So talking about infrastructure at scale. So one of the things… I actually didn’t actually mention loads of the stuff that I do in my intro. Which now I’m sort of sat here thinking, “Bit silly.” But one of the things I do is I run a meet up called GreenTech South West. And very much wanted to run that meet up because I didn’t feel that developers and techy’s were talking enough about environmental impacts of what they do. Both positively and negatively. There’s some really amazing stuff that digital is doing to help find carbon efficiencies in other sectors, for example. So through use of machine learning or AI, there’s these amazing things.

Hannah Smith:

So anyway, I work with some others here in Bristol to set up GreenTech South West. And in April we’ve got a session all about using refurbished and re-manufactured networking equipment at scale. So there’s this company in Bristol South West area called Cistor, who are one of Cisco’s certified partners. And their whole business angle is that they actually put recycled, and when I say recycled I mean refurbished networking infrastructure into these massive data centers. Which I think is such an interesting angle because Tom, you kind of mentioned it. And you said that there’s these kind of warranties, so after three years tech just kind of gets chucked out and replaced. So I think I’m really personally looking forward to hearing what Cistor will have to say in April because it’s a topic that I feel very ignorant around really. I don’t really understand it. So, yeah. Just kind of wanted to mention that, that there is some interesting stuff happening at scale as well where the impact is really massive.

Keith Devon:

That’s exciting. Tom.

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah. I mean, I learned a lot about this from a company… It’s not the same company, I can’t remember their name off the top of my head. But they do the same thing in the UK and basically their entire business is refurbishing servers from data centers. And they were explaining to me the whole issue of warranties and how basically the business model of the companies that manufacture servers is selling you servers. It’s not making sure the servers last as long as possible, it’s they have an inherent desire for you to replace those servers as quickly as possible and for them to have the shortest life possible. And so there’s a big issue in the actual business model of data centers and well, the hardware of data centers.

Tom Greenwood:

But what I found really fascinating was they explained that actually the reliability of refurbished servers is much higher than the reliability of brand new servers. And the reason is apparently that when they refurbish them they test every individual component and they replace any components that don’t show kind of perfect health. Which when they come off the production line in China, they batch test the servers. So they might test 1 in every 20 servers that comes off the production line and check that it seems okay. And if it does they assume that the other 19 were fine. And so they’ve done trials where they’ve tested brand new servers versus refurbished servers and found that the reliability of the refurbished ones is actually considerably higher, even though they’re three years old and they were going to be thrown away. So I think that for me was really eye opening.

Keith Devon:

We’re coming up on an hour soon. There’s a couple of things I’d love to cover still. The next thing I would like to get on to is what we talked about earlier, was how do we convince our clients that this is the right thing to do? And to some extent ourselves, from a business point of view. So we’ve covered the kind of ethical stuff, I think. So why is this good from a business point of view for ourselves and for our clients?

Keith Devon:

Before we do that, I just want to make sure that we’ve given our viewers and listeners enough kind of practical advice about how to improve the sustainability of the websites they build. So we’ve talked a little bit about green hosting, so that’s definitely something to look in to. We’ve talked about performance, so page weight. Also, rendering performance, animations and things like that. What else? What are the other things like low-hanging fruit maybe or… Not a quick lens, I don’t want to trivialize it but what are some of the other things that we can encourage people to look at when they are building their websites to improve their sustainability? Tom, we’ll go with you first.

Tom Greenwood:

I mean, I think just another couple of kind of hosting low-hanging fruits, particularly in WordPress. I think having a hosting provider that’s got really good caching. So that actually there’s not loads and loads of processing having to happen in the data center every time someone visits a page. I think that’s a really easy low-hanging fruit. And all of the kind of specialist WordPress hosts have that as standard. And then also looking at content delivery networks to move data closer to your users is another fairly low-hanging fruit. And in particular Cloudflare’s automatic platform optimization for WordPress, which is a bit of a tongue twister. But basically it kind of creates near enough a static version of a WordPress site on their CDNs. So you’re kind of getting the best of both worlds. If you’re running your normal WordPress you don’t really need to do anything technically but they’ve made it pretty much as efficient as it can be in terms of minimizing processing load automatically. And its like $5 a month or something for that service, so it’s really cheap.

Keith Devon:

Cool. That’s great. Jack have you got any other tips? You mentioned animations earlier, anything else like that?

Jack Lenox:

I was going to say caching and then Tom said it.

Keith Devon:

It’s like one of those round robins that the last person standing, yeah.

Jack Lenox:

Yeah. I’m trying to think is there anything else that’s… Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, there’s one thing I’d maybe add to the caching, which is something that it’s a really interesting thing to just look into what it can do. And it’s fallen a little bit out of maintenance. So it’s not as up to date as it probably should be, but there’s this amazing thing that Google worked on few years ago called the PageSpeed Module. So it can be installed on Apache and it can be installed in Nginx. So if you are someone that is sort of running your own VPS or something with your WordPress stuff on it, I’d really recommend checking out. Yeah. If you just sort of Google or DuckDuckGo the PageSpeed Module. I think it’s also in collaboration with the Apache Foundation but there’s one for Nginx and there’s one for Apache.

Jack Lenox:

And if you look through all the list of things it does… And to fill that in, sorry. On the fly as a server it can handle almost everything that you ought to be doing. So it can handle dealing with all the images, making sure that they’re being served at the size they’re shown at rather than over served or anything like that. It does all sorts. It can automatically minify all your assets so you don’t even need to be serving them. You don’t need to run a build process necessarily. It does all sorts of really weird and wonderful things. Some of them are opt-in, some of them are weird experimental features that you can look at as well. So, yeah. That’s something really interesting.

Jack Lenox:

And actually one other thing that’s just a really… this just blew my mind, this was quite a recent discovery for me. Is an image, if you take a color image and make it black and white it’s about the third the size as it was in color. Which is just a phenomenal thing that sort of just blew my mind. And so there’s one project I should probably plug which is the Branch magazine for ClimateAction.tech that I’ve been involved in. And what the Branch magazine does, it does a whole series of things. But one thing it does is monitor the current carbon intensity of the grid. So how green the grid currently is. And changes what it’s serving based on that. And one of the things we do is that when the grids in sort of a moderate situation, we render the images in black and white, which just massively reduces the data being transferred. And then what we have at the high grid intensity is the images are opt-ins. So the images aren’t shown and a place holder is shown and then you click if you want to see the image. So that’s, yeah. Images, there’s a lot going on there. But I’ll stop there.

Keith Devon:

Yeah. Images are huge and something in your book Tom that I loved was the image of the horse that you blurred the edges on. And it just massively reduced. That blew my mind. The main focus of the image was still in focus and it kind of didn’t… In fact, I think it improved the image in a way just adding that subtle blur around the outside. And I can’t remember what the reduction was but it was way over 50% wasn’t it?

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah. I don’t remember the exact number. It’s because the size of an image is basically proportional to the amount of data in the file. So the more you blur the image or if you just have somebody cut out on a solid color background or something like that, it’s going to be a much smaller file than if the whole image is super detailed. And like Jack said, when you strip the color out you’re stripping information out of that file. So, yeah.

Keith Devon:

Yeah. And-

Mark Wilkinson:

Jack. Sorry, Keith. Jack, what was that service? The Google thing you install on Apache and Nginx?

Jack Lenox:

It’s called the PageSpeed Module, if you-

Mark Wilkinson:

PageSpeed Module, right.

Jack Lenox:

Yeah.

Mark Wilkinson:

Cool, that’s fine.

Jack Lenox:

If you just search that, yeah.

Mark Wilkinson:

I’ll put it in the show notes, that’s all and I couldn’t remember the name of it when you said it, sorry.

Jack Lenox:

Yeah. No worries.

Keith Devon:

Hannah.

Hannah Smith:

I was just going to kind of rattle through a few other quick and easy things. I think there’s a couple of things that we haven’t really mentioned that are relevant to WordPress. So we haven’t talked about the choice of fonts and how fonts can make a difference. Mark, actually at your talk at WordPress Cheltenham the other night you were talking about that quite a bit, weren’t you? And actually that’s something I’ve learnt through all of this is that really looking at what fonts are being loaded in and particularly with different weights that are being loaded in and [inaudible 00:59:53] things like that, make a really big difference. So thinking about your fonts and how many [inaudible 01:00:01]. You can often [inaudible 01:00:01]. And theme choice really [inaudible 01:00:01]. I think most of us in this room probably prefer to build our own rather than [inaudible 01:00:19] use both.

Hannah Smith:

But I have some clients that will come with websites that they built a while ago and go, “Oh, this isn’t working and we need to customize this and we need to customize that.” And it is eye opening the range of themes that we have out there. So I think if you’re ever starting, not a build from scratch, a website from scratch and you’re using a pre built theme then just run sone quick tests on it. You could use Tom’s tool for example Website Carbon or even things like PageSpeed, Google PageSpeed Insights or Lighthouse. Just to see without any customizations how is that theme itself performing? I think that’s a really quick and easy choice you can make if you’re less developy and more buildy focused, if that makes sense?

Keith Devon:

Yeah.

Hannah Smith:

We haven’t even talked about Gutenberg but I know we’re short of time.

Keith Devon:

Yeah. There’s loads more isn’t there?

Hannah Smith:

So much to get into. We could do this all day, couldn’t we?

Keith Devon:

I really hope obviously, this is more an inspiration and people do kind of get interested in the topic and then do their own research from here. Obviously you guys have all been putting out good content and events and things like that. So there’s lots of paths to follow on from this starting point, hopefully.

Keith Devon:

So on to how we convince ourselves as businesses and our clients as businesses to get on board with this kind of thinking. That’s got to be one of the biggest challenges, right? I think for me this is a similar topic to accessibility in the sense that we all feel like it’s the right thing to do and we all listen to the talks and we all nod along. And then not a lot happens all the time. So how do we change that and make sure this is a priority for WordPress agencies and freelancers etc? But also for the clients. Jack, I’ll go to you for that first please.

Jack Lenox:

Oh sure. Yeah. Well, it’s interesting isn’t it? Because I think this comes back to something that Tom said a bit earlier about how we often in the process of building digital services, we do kind of lose sight of the user and we end up adding things that are sort of to please us and to impress other developers. And I think that’s so often the case with animations and with these sort of things that become these kind of fads. Things like parallax scrolling and stuff. Do normal people actually enjoy those things or is that something that we’ve just decided looks really cool? And look what we’ve done, we’ve hacked the scroll and all this kind of stuff. And whereas I think typically we find that I always like to use someone like my dad as an example. If I test the website on him, my dad likes something really simple where everything just does what it would normally do. There aren’t too many images and there aren’t too many colors and there aren’t too many fonts. It’s all just nice and simple. And that can still be beautiful and I think that’s the interesting thing is the challenge for us is doing that. I think Wholegrain has done some fantastic work on that. I love the redesigns of their sites and they’ve sort of paired it down and paired it down. I think that’s really great.

Jack Lenox:

So, yeah. I think sort of the trick I’ve found with some of this, certainly when it comes to things like carousels and stuff that I’ve dealt with with clients that they want to have. Or video backgrounds, that’s kind of a more up to date version of a carousel. Is that typically, if you do a little bit of user testing, users will feed back that they want the simplest, easiest, lightest thing. And I think that is someways the easiest well to sell this. And then obviously there’s all those other things we’ve been talking about, about how you will be punished by Google for having a big heavy slow website. And there’s all the standard arguments we can make around search engine optimization as well. Again, simple documents, that’s what search engines want to see. That’s how you sort of perform at your best. So and then obviously all the stuff as well, Amazon have done loads on this about just if pages load sort of milliseconds slower you reduce your conversions and everything else. So we just want the simplest, easiest way of presenting content to users and that is the winning way. And fortunately also, that’s the most sustainable way.

Keith Devon:

That’s great. Tom, anything to add to that? I guess, it might be slightly different for you because you’ve positioned yourself in a way where you might attract clients that are already in this mindset? I’m not sure if that’s true or not? But do you still have to do some convincing and if so, how do you go about that?

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah. I mean, quite a lot to be honest. I don’t think we ever saw digital sustainability in a brief for a project until about a year ago. And since then they’ve increased and we’re getting it more and more. But still, it’s a minority of briefs. It’s not the norm. And people come with other priorities, even if they care about sustainability they probably don’t know about digital sustainability, hence it’s not in their brief. So there’s an education piece there. But all the stuff that Jack said generally is how we would approach it with most clients. Because they normally do have their own priorities where they say, “Well, actually we need conversion rates and good search rankings and good user experience.” And all of those things are supported by pursuing a more sustainable approach. It’s a good lens to actually achieve all of those things.

Tom Greenwood:

But the other thing for us, we work with a lot of non-profits. And I think another kind of topic that segues into this is the issue of sort of data poverty. Where if you’re building web services for audiences who are not web developers, right? Who don’t have unlimited fiber broadband and the latest devices, but they actually have, they’re lucky to have a device and it’s probably an old, slow one. And they’re probably on some sort of pay as you go contract. Even within a western country, that data could be very expensive relative to their actual income. And they can burn through it really, really quickly. So there’s a sort of social justice issue there. But then if you’re looking at audiences in developing countries, that can be even more of an issue both in terms of the speed of the service and the cost to the person accessing the service. And I think for certain types of projects, those users are really, really central. And so that’s a part of the conversation that I think really gets buy-in. When they say, “Okay we’re building a service for people in this particular situation, we need to make sure those people in that situation can actually access it.” So I think that’s another angle to look at.

Keith Devon:

That’s great. And something Hannah that you put on the pre-show notes. A question which I thought was a very interesting question is, can you build sustainable websites at all using WordPress? Are there better content management systems/technologies to use? Where do we think WordPress sits, is it a good solution for building sustainable websites? Are there better ones? Hannah, I’ll start with you, that was your question.

Hannah Smith:

That’s an interesting one. The reason why I raised that one was because, so one of the things I was doing in sort of mid February was running a campaign called Let’s Green the Web. Which is very much about this education piece of helping people understand that websites have a carbon footprint and an environmental impact. And people are just simply unaware of it. And this was something that I saw come up time and time again within the campaign. Was developers love to have arguments about which is the best CMS? Which is the best JavaScrit framework? Should we use spaces or tabs? I mean, I just don’t have time for all of this, I think it’s ridiculous. But they were valid questions actually. I saw a lot of people going, “Well, you just can’t possibly build an environmentally friendly site in WordPress.” And I mean, the work that Jack has done with Branch magazine and Jack your sustywp theme. And Tom, everything that you do at Wholegrain, means that I very much of the view that yes, you can build low carbon emission websites. If you know what you’re doing.

Hannah Smith:

The average person on WordPress.com doesn’t know what they’re doing so they’re not going to be able to build, probably, a very carbon friendly website because they’ll be loads of plugins going in. Perhaps poor theme choice. Perhaps falling into that thing of shiny which is, “Oh, I want all these features on my website and I want the ability to do all these things but I don’t actually need them.” So for me, I feel very, very strongly that yes, WordPress is a good choice for building something that is sustainable, but in the right hands. And I think that’s true of absolutely any kind of digital tool. Any CMS, any framework, anything. You can do great things with it and you can also hash it up royally and create a bit of a mess. It comes down to knowledge really.

Keith Devon:

That’s great. Lastly, if developers get on board with this or want to get on board with this is there anyway that… This is probably slightly controversial. Is there certification of any kind? Is there a badge people can put on their website? Or actually do we want to stay away from that kind of thing because it’s kind of green washing to some extent? Tom, do you have any thoughts on that?

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah. I don’t know. I’m not aware of a badge that certifies that you’re a green developer or anything like that as such. We have a badge on Website Carbon which you can add to your website, is a little widget you can out in the footer. But that’s not really a certification its more just it gives you the carbon emission estimate of the page from the tool on the website. So that’s a different type of badge really. I don’t know if we need a badge.

Keith Devon:

That’s fair enough. Yeah. Hannah, did you have…

Hannah Smith:

I’ve got really strong views on this actually because I believe that at the moment the biggest problem that we have is a lack of awareness and understanding about this. People do not understand that digital has an impact because you can’t see it, you can’t feel it. You can feel a ream of paper by the photocopier in the office, you know that that has an impact. You can’t really see the smog coming out the back of your computer. So actually, I think that the badges and the certifications are awesome because we need to raise awareness. And there’s also that thing around social proof. So if you see other people doing this stuff and you see other people caring, you’re more likely yourself to care.

Hannah Smith:

So again, through the Let’s Green the Web campaign we got quite a lot of advice about how to talk to people about this topic. And how to get people to pay attention because environmentalists can sometimes come across as rather self righteous and a bit easy to dismiss for various reasons. So through the campaign we really, really wanted to make sure that we couldn’t be dismissed. So we talked a lot about the cost of a website, and how coming back to that earlier question from you Keith around how do we convince people? The argument is, it’s money. It comes down to money. That’s why businesses are really generally in business, they care about the bottom line. And there’s loads of research that we’ve found and we put on the ClimateAction.tech website that talks about how businesses that are thinking about sustainability are far more likely to succeed.

Hannah Smith:

So there’s a study that shows, 100 studies that crush assumptions about the conflict between profit and sustainability. These two things go hand in hand. If you want to be a business that survives you need to be caring about sustainability. A simple answer. So anyway, I think the badges are brilliant.

Keith Devon:

That’s great. I think that is a perfect place to round up the show.

Mark Wilkinson:

Can I just ask one very, very quick question to everyone on the panel? We’ve obviously got a lot of solo developers, freelancers and small agencies here. If they could do one thing today that would really make the biggest impact, what would you suggest that be? Because I’m sure people can’t go away and take everything on board and go and do everything, but if they could do just one or two things, just one thing what would that be? Hannah, what do you thinks the biggest thing they could do to be better and more sustainable?

Hannah Smith:

I think if you’re talking about sort of actually managing your own impact, I would say it’s switch hosting. And be on a hosting company that runs on renewable energy. But I’m going to just add a second one in which is when if you’re thinking about the impact and spreading awareness of others it’s put a badge on your website [crosstalk 01:13:57] from Wholegrain Digital carbon calculator tool. I think that’s the second most powerful thing you can do, spread the knowledge.

Keith Devon:

Like it. Cool.

Mark Wilkinson:

And Tom, anything to add on that, or are they the ones for you?

Tom Greenwood:

I would say optimize your images and find an easy way of doing it. So whether that’s a plugin like WebP Express or a service like ShortPixel, there are lots of ways of massively reducing the size of your images. And without any downside really. So, yeah.

Mark Wilkinson:

And Jack? Sorry, I’ve put you last.

Jack Lenox:

It’s fine. Yeah. I was definitely going to say Hannah’s one. So actually, I’ll end it with, I’m going to weave slightly back… Sorry, I know we’re wrapping up. But when Hannah was talking about people saying, “Oh you can’t do WordPress sustainably and everything.” It really annoys me because I do think that typically comes from a position of ignorance, without meaning to be horrible. But I would raise something, so if you’re on a standard… Yeah. So sorry, I’ll do this very quickly. But I think the point there is that if you installed WordPress on a un-configured server and tried to run an enterprise level service through it. Yes, it won’t be very sustainable because you’re going to be using PHP and MySQL out the backdoor. It’s going to be insane.

Jack Lenox:

But from the very inception of WordPress, the most simple plugin is WP Super Cache, which I like to plug because this has, I think, been going now for about 17 years. And WP Super Cache, before it was ever a thing it basically creates static site files of your whole site and serves them instead of serving the PHP. And if you’re just on a regular hosting set up where you find this is a problem, install WP Super Cache and you switch it on. It requires no configuration, it just does the job. And, yeah. I think that’s the kind of thing where it’s such a simple thing. But this whole debate, people sort of using Eleventy to take the REST API stuff and then create a static site. You’re just like, if you’re serving it the right way, if it’s cached… Anyway, it just annoys me.

Mark Wilkinson:

I think it’s a great tip. Yeah.

Keith Devon:

That’s another episode. That’s great. I just personally want to say a huge thank you to the three of you today, we’ve taken up a lot of your time and I know you’re all very busy doing lots of active promotion of this topic. So thank you very, very much for giving us your time today. I’m certainly inspired, hopefully I can turn that into some kind of action going forward. Mark, do you want to wrap up for us?

Mark Wilkinson:

Yeah. Just to finish up then. So just where can people find you on the web to find out more about you and what you do? If you want to let us know about anything you’ve got coming up as well quickly? Hannah?

Hannah Smith:

So I’m on Twitter, hanopcan. I spend quite a bit of time on there. And LinkedIn as well. Hannah Smith, good luck finding me on LinkedIn. But generally my website is opcan.co.uk. But the thing I would love to see more people come along to is the GreenTech South West events which are all online. They’re free, they’re community driven, and they’re really, really interesting. I learn so much cool stuff from running them and obviously having to go to them because I’m chairing them or kind of organizing them. So that would be super cool to see more people come along to those.

Mark Wilkinson:

Sounds good. Jack, what about you? Where can we find more about you and what you’ve got going on?

Jack Lenox:

So fortunately I’m a bit easier to find because there are very few people with the name spelt my way. So I’m just @JackLenox, L-E-N-O-X, on Twitter and on GitHub. I don’t really have anything to plug at the moment but I think the thing I probably would recommend people check out that I’ve been working on which I think is great, is the Branch magazine. And that’s branch.climateaction.tech. And there’s some great articles, there’s stuff that’s sort of way outside the realms of web design but there’s also some web design stuff in there. And there’s a great post by the designer I worked with on that talking about sort of the philosophical decisions behind how that websites been put together.

Mark Wilkinson:

Great, thanks. And Tom?

Hannah Smith:

Is that second edition of that has a call for proposals out at the moment, I think the deadlines the 15th.

Jack Lenox:

Thank you, Hannah. That’s something I should have said. Yes. And I should know the email address but I don’t. But if you go, I think it’s on the website. Yeah. If you go to Branch, there’s a call and Hannah’s exactly right. If you want to write something for it, 15th March.

Mark Wilkinson:

Cool. I’ll put that link in the show notes to that website. Thank you. And finally, to Tom. Obviously you’ve got your book, so where can people get hold of that?

Tom Greenwood:

Yeah. So you can get hold of the book on the A Book Apart website which I think is abookapart.com, and it’s simply called Sustainable Web Design. And you can find me, I don’t have my own Twitter account but you can follow the Wholegrain Twitter @eatwholegrain and you can generally kind of keep pace with talks and things that we’re doing there. And the Curiously Green newsletter, so we do a monthly newsletter about what’s going on in the world of kind of green stuff in the web sector. And we’re always keen for people to suggest things, let us know about interesting things that are happening that we can report on. So you can sign up for that in the footer of the wholegraindigital.com website, or in the footer of websitecarbon.com. And then you can reply to that, I read those and reply to those myself. So that’s a good way of getting in touch.

Mark Wilkinson:

Excellent. Thank you very much. So thanks again to all three of you, really enjoyed that. Again, just one reminder please do subscribe to the channel if you want to not miss out on any upcoming episodes of WP Café and other development videos as well. Next month, that is April, I think it’s the 6th but I will clarify that. We’ve got a really good episode coming up all about the building the Twenty Twenty-One theme and that’s with Mel Choyce-Dwan and Carolina Nymark. They are the developers and designers of Twenty Twenty-One. So be really good to learn all about how that was built.

Mark Wilkinson:

Thanks again also to our episode sponsors DeployHQ. Go and check those out, use the code WPCafe at DeployHQ.com and you’ll be able to get 20 days worth of a free trial instead of 10. Thanks to all those that tuned in on YouTube. Thanks for joining us and we will see you all next time.