The Environment and Design Part 1: Web
Lately—or really, for a great while now—environmental issues have been a concern. Considering reports of the Great Barrier Reef’s dire condition, and the Earth reaching the “point of no return” in atmospheric CO2 levels, many of us are trying to find a way to leave less of an environmental footprint. In the midst of that though, companies and organizations need marketing and materials to help them succeed. So how do we balance this with being mindful of our impact on the environment?
It’s easy to think that web design and usage have zero environmental effects and that print design is incredibly wasteful, but the truth is that both are more complicated than that. In this first post, we’ll look at some pros and cons of web design to help set the record straight, and offer tips to help you be a conscientious user. Keep reading; you may be surprised.
- The first and most obvious point is that an actual website is virtual, meaning there is no physical end-product, which would eventually need to be disposed.
- There are minimal carbon emissions from producing the end-product.
- Since the end product is not a physical product, there is no shipping necessary, both business to business and business to end user, cutting down on carbon emissions.
- No direct physical work waste—no reprinting when the product doesn’t turn out right the first time
- The nature of design (both web and print) allows many people to work from home or a remote location, lowering carbon emissions.
- Sending the product out/setting it live is much, much faster than mailing.
- Creating and viewing proofs of the project is much, much faster than print.
- It takes energy, water, chemicals, and other precious resources to create electronics, and creates an uptick in mining of precious resources.
- Digital work still has to be stored on something that must be powered. The word “cloud” for remote storage sounds completely harmless, but it actually has to be stored on a physical device in a facility, both of which must be powered.
- The energy to power (use) devices usually comes from a power plant, which usually creates emissions.
- The devices must eventually be disposed of, creating physical waste. Currently, many people keep mobile devices for 1–4 years and computers are often used anywhere from 3–8 years. This results in 20 to 5o million tons (and an expected 93.5 million tons in 2016) of E-Waste a year.
- Throwing electronics away puts chemicals, known carcinogens and heavy metals into the environment.
- Recycling isn’t perfect, complete or easy.
- Disposal of electronics has health risks (excerpt from World Health Organization).
“E-waste-connected health risks may result from direct contact with harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), from inhalation of toxic fumes, as well as from accumulation of chemicals in soil, water and food. In addition to its hazardous components, being processed, e-waste can give rise to a number of toxic by-products likely to affect human health. Furthermore, recycling activities such as dismantling of electrical equipment may potentially bear an increased risk of injury.”
- Other notes on what happens to e-waste (excerpt from Planet Green Recycle):
“REUSE – In some cases, old electronics are reused, whether they are re-certified and resold or sent to developing countries for reuse. However, in some cases, electronics sent to developing countries for reuse are only used a short time and then dumped in areas that don’t have proper hazardous waste facilities.
LANDFILLS – Unfortunately, much of the e-waste ends up in landfills today. The toxic chemicals found in e-waste often leach into the ground or may be released into the air, impacting the environment and local communities.
EXPORT – It’s common for e-waste to be exported to other countries, such as India and China, where e-waste scrap yards take care of the electronic waste.
INCINERATION – Some e-waste is incinerated, but this is problematic because it results in the release of heavy metals into the air.
RECYCLING – Only a small percentage of e-waste is actually recycled. While recycling helps ensure that raw materials are reused, workers often end up handling hazardous chemicals, causing harm to the workers, the local community, and the local environment.”
- Some people prefer to view things without distractions, which easily happen on a device.
- Digital work can feel less natural to navigate and just has a different experience.
- You lose the tactile experience of a print-piece.
- You must be on a device or viewing a digital display somewhere to see these items, which limits your audience depending on different factors like age, habits, wealth and location.
TIPS FOR BEING ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY
- Take better care of your electronic devices so you can keep them longer or sell them later.
- Put off replacing entire electronics if they aren’t necessary. Try to add another year to their lives.
- Take the time to recycle or resell electronic devices. It’s not perfect, but better than the trash.
- Turn your electronics off when not in use, and unplug if not using a smart power strip.
- Instead of buying more storage, purge files periodically.
- Laptops use considerably less power than desktop computers, and are physically smaller, meaning less emissions and less physical waste. Opt for smaller electronics.
- Educate yourself and others on environmental issues. There’s no shame in wanting to take care of it. And do your own research—this post only shows the tip of the (melting) iceberg.
Stay tuned for part two—The Environment and Design Part 2: Print.