Sustainability of the web vs through the web

I referred to Sustainability of the web, in a recent blog post about a recorded talk I did about Planet friendly Web development, and halfway through explaining the term I realised it was better expanding on the difference between Sustainability of the web, vs sustainability through the web in a separate post. I think it’s a useful idea, so without further ado…

Sustainability of the web, vs sustainability through the web

Jack Townsend introduced me to this concept a while back, and while the boundaries can be bit fuzzy, I think it’s a useful idea.

As the name suggests, sustainability of the web is an inward looking concept – mainly concerned with making the web as it currently is have a lighter environmental footprint, as it supports the existing behaviour we take part in, like staying in touch with each other, shopping online and so on.

While you can accuse it only being a local optimisation, I still think it’s worth discussing, and spending time on, especially given that the carbon footprint of IT, in 2018 is probably about the same size or larger than the aviation industry now.

As I outline the video above, the incentives are aligned to make it easier to get people on board with if they already have invested years developing skills that can be useful here.

For me at least, Sustainability through the web is a more outward looking concept, and this is about replacing existing behaviour. An example might be what got me interested in Loco2 back in 2008, where the goal was to make it as easy to book trains in Europe as it was to book planes in Europe, to reduce the impact of travel.

Another might be one of the clean meat companies like Memphis Meats, or Perfect Day Foods, who are working out how to brew milk from yeast and sugars, instead of cows, so you can have all the delicious dairy things we’re used to in the west, without the colossal carbon footprint of that comes from the millions farting and burping cows we use at the moment to make dairy-based foods.

I think you need both – one is easier to see some success with, but the other arguably has a larger impact, but harder to see it work in the short term.