How your development team can help reach your digital sustainability goals

Narcisa Lupu
Narcisa Lupu

May 9, 2021

How your development team can help reach your digital sustainability goals

This post was written by one of our implementation partners, Digital Detox, who specializes in building thoughtful digital products with user experience at their core. As a disclaimer, the guidelines mentioned in this post are intended to serve as considerations, and not meant to highlight a recommended practice or process.

In the last two years, companies have had to adapt to drastic changes in working culture and new technologies. Many organizations have switched office and physical meetings for virtual calls, digitized their offline practices, and undergone rapid digital transformation. It's important to remember each digital interaction comes at a cost. For every piece of content, code, and digital design that’s created, there’s an impact on our collective digital carbon footprint.

Measuring the sustainability of code and programming) is something more teams are beginning to be conscious about and factor in when making architectural decisions.

Your development team can be instrumental in helping you push forward with your digital sustainability goals. Developers are knowledgeable about the inner workings of your digital platforms and technical infrastructure and would be best positioned to help you make better decisions on the sustainability of your digital operations.

Make time to listen to their ideas about how to detox your development processes, existing systems, and tech stack. This is useful for getting new ideas and fresh perspectives, but also valuable for gaining buy-in from the team as you embark on your journey to becoming more energy efficient.

What is digital pollution?

Everything we do online requires energy; from plugging in devices to distributing content globally via CDNs. In turn, this energy creates carbon, which contributes to the overall footprint of a company - where inefficient digital practices not only harm the environment but tend to stack up costs. The more excess carbon in the atmosphere, the more we witness changes in weather patterns, and depletion of natural resources.

The problem is that most people aren’t aware of how their traditional design and development practices affect the planet, so they code, connect and digitize as they’ve always done. As we learn more about digital carbon footprints, we’re realising that there’s a lot we can do to combat the environmental impact of our online activities. This has given rise to a new consciousness around digital sustainability.

What is digital sustainability?

Digital sustainability is an ethical approach to design and development that aims to reduce our individual and collective digital footprint.

It is a holistic view of how we, as those who work in the software development sphere, can actively try to minimize the amount of carbon we create when we’re coding, designing, and consuming online content.

The good news is that as a developer there are some simple actions you can take to become more energy efficient.

Get buy-in from the leadership team

Adopting a sustainable approach to development requires buy-in at all levels. Creating a plan that outlines how you want to make your development more sustainable is a crucial first step. It may be helpful to employ a digital agency with experience in building a digital sustainability strategy.

Some key elements that can help teams create a more sustainable approach to development, particularly for SaaS software development, require management to make the decisions and allocate the resources. Considerations such as adopting greener server architectures and data centers, building efficient code, and holding teams accountable for the new, greener standards.

It’s important to set the intention and deliver clear development briefs to the team that incorporates digital sustainability as a standard. This means everyone needs to buy into the concept and understand the importance of detoxing your development approach.

The development team is just one piece of the puzzle; you’ll also need to find ways to be more energy efficient in your design, product management, business analysis, commercial function, and customer strategy.

Detoxing isn’t something that happens by chance; it takes planning, commitment, and a company-wide cultural change. It’s hard work but is clearly worth the extra investment

Make a plan for greater digital sustainability

Teams can start this process by creating a set of goals for the quarter on how to make the team and processes more sustainable. These can then be evaluated at the end of the quarter and progress can be shared with the team.

To create greener processes in the long term, teams must make a plan to understand how to transition and create meaningful change. This doesn’t mean that the team cannot also benefit from some quick wins. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Use technology that bills by execution time and challenge the developers to build efficient code

  • Consider whether your team has the capacity to adopt serverless computing could be adopted for your use case to give teams more control

  • Streamline outdated processes within the team to ensure time spent online is productive

  • Review your existing or next sprint and identify at least one change to make it more energy efficient

  • Before you build anything new, check whether you can reuse any existing components from previous work, instead of starting from scratch, if the answer is no then make sure to delete the outdated solutions

  • Use prototyping to prove concepts before development to save on unnecessary iterations and wasted development time

  • Adopt an agile methodology this way you won’t waste time and energy trying to salvage a concept or approach that won’t work

  • Encourage developers and designers to work closely to check the technical feasibility of designs upfront, to avoid unnecessary work further down the line

  • Set an example of holding yourself accountable for your own digital detox (set goals for yourself to take a greener approach to software development, repair existing technologies instead of buying new, switch to a greener broadband provider, adopt green software practices in side projects)

While these changes may seem small, they represent a change in mindset to the approach of energy consumption when it comes to software development. These small changes push teams to consider how to optimize for sustainability to the forefront.

Continually evaluate your progress and successes

Detoxing your development processes isn’t a one-off exercise. The good news is that simply streamlining clunky, labor-intensive offline practices, is an excellent first step.

Building in digital sustainability as part of the team’s KPIs means you’ll be able to factor in energy efficiency at every stage of your development process. From planning to coding, your developers can become more conscious of their digital carbon footprint. Monitor the progress and celebrate the successes in order to keep teams motivated.

The principles of digital detox for your development team are simple:

  • More efficiency

  • Less waste

  • Conscious coding

  • Sustainable KPIs

  • Ongoing change

  • Customer-focused

  • Shared accountability

Whether your objective for becoming more energy-efficient, digitally, is to improve customer satisfaction, achieve your CSR goals, or simply do something good for the environment, the end result helps shift the industry away from wasteful practices towards a more sustainable approach to development with greener resource consumption.


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