The statistics are sobering:

  • If the internet were a country, it would be the sixth most polluting country in the world, with annual emissions similar to those of Germany1.
  • Communication technology will probably use 14% of global electricity by 2040, up from just under 4% in 20202.
  • A single request to ChatGPT can consume 100 times more energy than one Google search according to Sam Altman, CEO, OpenAI3.

It’s easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed in the shadow of such catastrophic facts. The problem is hard to ignore and it’s difficult to know what to do that might have a positive impact.

Here are five ideas to design with the environment in mind. They might be small steps, but many small steps can soon add up to a significant change.

Make the planet one of your stakeholders

Deciding the planet's role provokes an environmental conversation at the project's outset.

We start projects by bringing practitioners and stakeholders together for a kick-off workshop. This session ensures we have a common understanding of the work ahead.

One of the activities in this workshop is to agree on a project RACI. We list who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed within the project. It’s a simple exercise but the clarity is useful for identifying what expertise and input we should seek from the named individuals.

Having the planet be a proactive partner in your project ensures its needs are considered.

If the planet is to be consulted, get someone to act as a proxy for Mother Earth. Then the project team can interview them or email them a set of questions as they would other subject matter experts.

If the planet is to be informed, consider what updates to include in your project communications. Adding a placeholder slide to your playback deck, having a hashtag for messages in Teams or Slack, or including a recurring agenda item in steering committee meetings all help to keep the dialogue ongoing and front of mind.

A photograph of Earth taken from the International Space Station. It shows a vast expanse of blue sea and cloud cover.
Earth Observation taken during a day pass by the Expedition 40 crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Image from Nasa’s image and video library (iss040e074785).

Design with the planet as a user

Be intentional in giving the planet a voice within your design and innovation process.

Successful digital products come from meeting the needs of your users. A deep understanding of their goals, tasks and context enables design teams to create usable, engaging and elegant solutions.

When based on research, personas are a useful tool to help a digital team walk in the shoes of the intended users.

Most products and services have multiple personas representing a range of audiences and their needs. To help make greener digital design decisions, you could add their environmental attitudes and needs to each of your personas.

You could even go one step further and have the planet as a discreet persona within your set of audiences. This approach becomes a powerful statement of the importance you place on your environmental commitment.

Why stop at personas? When you document product requirements, give the planet a voice within your design process. User needs, user stories, and user requirements specification documents all offer the opportunity to hear from the planet.

Set a climate budget for your digital products

‘Successful societies and institutions recognise the need to record their history’. This is a mantra that guides the open-source HTTP archive. Its regular state of the web report shows a continuing fight between code optimisation and webpage bloat. The latter has the upper hand.

In March 2014, the median page weight for desktop webpages was 1.08MB. Jump forward five years to March 2019 and it increases to 1.82MB. Moving forward to March 2024 the median size of a desktop webpage is 2.56MB with mobile pages rapidly catching up at 2.27MB.

As webpages grow bigger they become ever greedier in their need to consume energy.

Line chart showing the median page weight over time. The chart shows page weight growing from 0.51MB on desktop and 0.14MB on mobile on May 16th 2011, to 2.56MB on desktop and 2.27MB on mobile on March 1st 2024.
Time series of total kilobytes from the page weight report from

What’s the climate budget for your website and individual web pages? Setting figures ahead of projects helps to guide the work to achieve a smaller carbon footprint.

Page weight is the responsibility of the whole digital team. Everyone’s input is needed. What content can you remove? Do you need the purely decorative images? Can you cut the duration time from your videos? Can you eliminate redundant steps in a process? Can you remove unnecessary pages? How can you refactor to reduce repetitive code?

Development decisions, visual design choices, content approach, and product strategy all contribute to the environmental impact of your website.

Creativity and low-impact websites aren’t mutually exclusive. Increased energy consumption and a greener web are.

Invite the planet to your design critiques and code reviews

Better products are created when you show work early and often and ask for input from colleagues and collaborators.

You want to invite people to your critiques who ask probing questions. It’s even better if the mix of expertise spans different disciplines and encompasses a range of viewpoints. After all, no one person can know everything.

A great critique forces you to articulate your work and the thinking behind it. They provide a moment to take a step back to check your outputs meet your intended outcomes. They give the space to have the work challenged by critical friends with the collective aim of improving the product.

To design with the environment in mind, invite the planet to be an active voice in your product feedback sessions. Give one person the explicit role of representing the planet in your reviews. Get them to ask questions about product decisions through the lens of the impact on the environment.

This will initially seem odd but trust me the awkwardness soon goes. This role-play has a bonus. By switching the person representing the planet you quickly broaden your colleagues' and organisation's knowledge and empathy for sustainable design matters.

Measure the impact of your work

Contrails left in the wake of aeroplanes, smoke billowing from factory chimneys, the shimmer of heat and the smell of vehicle exhaust fumes on motorways. These all give a visceral sense of industries with a green challenge.

The impact of the internet is less obvious to our senses. The glow from the screen belies a catalogue of energy consumption needed to serve a webpage, from the hosting and transmission of data to the cooling of heat-spewing data centres and server farms. Much of the power needed is still being generated by dirty energy. The enormity of the problem is in the scale of usage with a predicted 30.9 billion (and growing) number of internet-enabled devices in the world by 20254.

Tackling your carbon footprint starts by making the invisible more visible.

Audit your digital footprint to see what changes you can make. Review your website to see where reducing the code base, removing unnecessary plug-ins, optimising file sizes and simplifying the information architecture can increase both your sustainability and page performance. The web carbon calculator, Digital Beacon and Ecograder are free-to-use services useful for an initial evaluation.

A webpage from BBC’s Future Planet with data on travel emissions for reporting the story and the estimated carbon count for viewing the webpage.
BBC Future Planet makes visible the carbon cost of creating an article and viewing the webpage.

Take a look at your hosting solution and where their energy is coming from. The Green Web Foundation has a growing open directory of green hosting providers to make switching to cleaner options easier to find.

Alternatively, take a more radical approach like low-tech magazine which is entirely solar-powered. No sun, no website. Or branch magazine whose design changes based on the quantity of fossil fuels on the grid to always stay inside a carbon budget.

Homepage from Low-Tech magazine with its strapline ‘This is a solar-powered website, which means it sometimes goes offline’.

Make your commitment visible to give it the focus it requires. Set targets based on where you are and where you want to get to in what timeframe.

Making your digital output more sustainable is an ongoing initiative not a one-off project. Measure, implement changes and share your progress. Rinse and repeat.

How do you ensure the planet gets a voice in your digital product decisions?

The tips in this article won’t save the planet. They will help get your teams to consider their work's environmental impact and find ways to design sustainability into your digital products.

Let me know how you design with the environment in mind. What practical advice would you suggest? How do you put the planet into your project teams?


  1. How to stop data centres from gobbling up the world’s electricity. Nature Journal.

  2. Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations. Journal of Cleaner Production.

  3. AI’s Growing Carbon Footprint. Columbia’s Climate School.

  4. IoT and non-IoT connections worldwide 2010-2025.