The W3C Sustainable Web Design Community Group has just released a draft of their Web Sustainability Guidelines (WSGs). The guidelines, which the group say have been inspired by W3C’s work on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines covers ‘ User-Experience Design’ in some detail. While 29 of the total 93 guidelines focus on UX, the most contentious and most important tackle Business Strategy And Product Management.
The guidelines reflect ESG principles outlined in the Sustainable Web Manifesto. They also align with GRI standards to help organizations more easily incorporate the impact of digital products and services into broader sustainability reporting initiatives.
These guidelines are an attempt to address what the group see as a key issue — the digital industry’s impact on climate. According to the group the digital industry is now responsible for between 2–5% of global emissions and if the Internet were a country it would be one of the top five polluters.
Many of the 29 draft guidelines on UX and web sustainability would appear pretty straightforward, such as the need to ‘Assess And Research Visitor Needs’ (guideline 2.2) which surely should already be an integral part of any good UX practice; while others such as guideline 2.18 ‘Take a More Sustainable Approach To Typefaces’, would also seem to align with existing good design practice on using a minimal number of fonts. The same would apply to their advice on notifications (guideline 2.22):
Notifications whether through the browser or through messaging can be potentially useful, but only used in moderation. Spam and the lack of control are contributing sources of Internet emissions and as such, businesses should aim to reduce such actions.
These are really UX fundamentals and while these guidelines are certainly useful, and good to have as a baseline, there’s little that’s radical here. Each guideline is provided with an example and a link to further information; and for those who don’t want to tackle the full set of specifications there is also a ‘quick-start’ guide, Guidelines At A Glance.
Section three deals with web development, and again there are many ‘common-sense’ guidelines here, as there is in section four, which deals with Hosting, Infrastructure And Systems. Here, rather sensibly, we are advised to ‘Choose A Sustainable Hosting Provider.’
The real ‘meat’ in the guidelines come in the Business and Product Strategy section. Here, in section 5.1 ‘Have An Ethical And Sustainability Product Strategy’, organizations are encouraged to build sustainability into their overall product strategy.
Create a publicly available statement in an easy to find location on your website that outlines a clear commitment to prioritize ethics and sustainability ESG standards which align with the organization’s mission, vision, and values and includes statements specific to digital products, services, policies, and programs. This should be done while actively promoting such efforts (with evidence) using social channels.
The Business-related guidelines are not afraid to tackle such thorny issues as the sharing of economic benefits.
The organization shares the economic benefits of its digital products, services, policies, and programs. (Guideline 5.17)
Interesting, especially in light of the success criteria:
Success Criterion — Living Wage
The organization publicly commits to paying employees, contractors, and other stakeholders a living wage.
Success Criterion — Incentivisation
The organization has policies and practices in place to incentivize stakeholders, such as workers and contractors, to meet its impact goals.
Success Criterion — Employee Benefits
The organization provides benefits to employees in accordance with its resources, including, where relevant, healthcare, retirement planning, flex time, profit sharing, and so on.
Success Criterion — Legislation Advocation
The organization advocates for responsible legislation that supports employment rights, transparency, and accountability related to sharing economic benefits.
Here lies hope for the beginning of a more equitable web…
Guidelines 5.25 Plan For A Digital Product Or Service’s Care And End-Of-Life and 5.26 Include E-waste, Right-to-repair, And Recycling Policies are certainly welcome and necessary. However, the guideline on ‘right-to-repair’ is opaque at best and should be clearer and more stringent. Is it enough to just glibly expect an organization to address “e-waste, right-to-repair, recycling, and related practices in its operations”? There’s a lot of wriggle-room there, that’s for sure.
It would be great to see a clear guideline on right-to-repair accepted as an industry standard, and as soon as possible.
However, let’s remember these are draft guidelines and there is certainly an opportunity for the UX community to get engaged and work to ensure the web sustainability guidelines can be as effective and widely accepted as those on accessibility. Comments and suggestions on the guidelines are welcome via GitHub.
This is a really important initiative and the Sustainable Web Design Community Group have, literally, done the (digital) world a service with this project. Now it’s up to the rest of us to contribute and to work towards a more sustainable digital future.