I am delighted to announce that my book, Sustainable Web Design, has now been translated into German by the publisher Conopolist. ‘Nachhaltiges Webdesign’ is now available as paperback and ebook!
We’ve had a huge amount of interest in our work from the web community in Germany and it’s a real honour to have the book translated and made accessible to a wider audience.
For the launch of the book in Germany, Conopolist interviewed me for their blog (auf Deutsch) and they kindly let me publish the interview here in English.
Can you give us a brief summary of your professional career?
I studied Engineering and Product Design at University and spent the first few years of my career working in industrial design. I then moved into the world of digital design and engineering, co-founding the web design agency Wholegrain Digital in 2007 with my wife Vineeta.
I wanted to use my design and engineering skills to make a positive impact in the world and it seemed that digital technology presented a huge opportunity to do that. I also wanted to experience running a business first hand and test my hypothesis that businesses can be environmentally and socially sustainable.
Since then I have led the business as Managing Director, growing to a team of 20 people, achieving B Corp certification and working on social and environmental impact projects for clients including UNICEF, Oxfam and Ecover.
How did you get involved in the topic of sustainability in the first place?
I first became interested in the topic of green technology when I was around 10 years old and found a book in the school library with pictures of the future showing houses with solar panels and electric vehicles. The idea that we could get clean energy directly from the sun inspired me and seemed so logical as a child, even before I had thought about the environmental issues.
A few years later, I learned about the greenhouse effect at school and saw an image in a Geography textbook at school showing the world map in the future after the rise in sea levels. It immediately struck me that we could not take the health of our planet for granted and must take action to protect our own future.
When I later went to university, I chose to write my thesis on the topic of Sustainable Product Design in the hope that I could have a career in sustainable design and engineering.
What is the importance of sustainability for you in everyday life?
I believe that a safe, healthy planet and climate are the foundation of all life and cannot be taken for granted.
The science is clear that we must find ways to live more sustainably, but the past few decades have also shown that we cannot wait for governments and corporations to solve the problems. We all have a role to play and our small individual actions do make a difference in shaping the direction of our society.
I try to do what I can, so I no longer fly within Europe or for work and I try to limit flying as far as possible, though I do have family in other continents. I eat a planet based diet, drive an electric car, have solar panels on my house (like I dreamed as a child), have a composting toilet and try to grow some of my own food.
Most of all, I simply try to be conscious of the choices that I am making in daily life.
What prompted you to write the book?
Several years ago when we first started the process of becoming a Certified B Corp, we were assessing our company’s carbon emissions and I noticed that we did not calculate the impact of our products because they were digital. I asked some colleagues in the industry and the consensus was that digital products did not have an environmental footprint. This seemed like a plausible argument but I wasn’t satisfied with simply making the assumption, and so I began researching the topic.
I was surprised to find that digital technology as a whole had a huge carbon footprint and so I started an internal project at Wholegrain to create a methodology for calculating the carbon footprint of an individual website. This inspired the development of tools and resources, and a significant change in our approach to web design and development over the next few years.
Then in summer 2019, I had lunch with a friend and she posed the question of “What would you be doing if you didn’t have to worry about time or money?”. I was surprised to find that the answer came to me immediately – I would write a book on Sustainable Web Design!
I was concerned that our industry has a huge environmental footprint and yet there was almost no awareness about the problems or solutions. I hoped that writing a book could help to raise awareness and set the industry on a more sustainable path.
How long did you spend writing the book? Did you find it easy to write? Where did you have to struggle?
I started writing the book over my Christmas break in 2019 and produced a very rough draft within 2 weeks. I then spent the next couple of months improving that first draft. I really enjoyed that initial writing phase and dedicated quiet time to get the ideas on the page.
The real challenge came after that initial writing process, as there were then several rounds of editing with the publisher that lasted until November. I really struggled with the structural editing process, which involved moving large sections of content to different places within the book. This was a mental challenge because I found it difficult to keep track of the changes and ensure that the book was still coherent as a whole.
The later stages of editing were easier as they mainly focused on small details and refinements, but after nearly a year in the process I did breathe a sigh of relief when it was complete.
How did it feel when you held your book in your hand for the first time?
I have always admired those people who had dedicated themselves to writing a book and so to see a published book with my name on was very rewarding but also a surreal feeling. It was made more strange by the fact that we were in lockdown at the time and so I wasn’t able to show it to anyone until some time later.
How was the feedback on your book so far?
I have been overwhelmed by the positive response to the book. Although I had written the book hoping that it would be influential within our industry, I naturally feared that it might not make an impact and that people may not be interested in the topic. However, it seems that there was a great appetite in our industry to talk about sustainability and it has helped to inspire many people to make positive changes in the way they design and develop digital services.
What project are you currently working on?
We’re currently working on an updated version of WebsiteCarbon.com, which is the public version of our carbon calculator for websites, and collaborating with peers to support each other in the development of sustainability tools within our industry. I’m also exploring the broader topic of digital sustainability to understand impacts beyond energy and carbon, and to identify opportunities for where digital technology can be used to make a positive impact.
Is there anything you would like to share with the readers of this interview?
One of the things that I wanted to convey in the book is that sustainability should not be a niche topic in any industry.
It is clear that urgent action is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and this means that we need to rapidly decarbonise every industry, including the digital sector. The good news is that decarbonising the digital sector is much easier than many other industries, and when we do so there are many other benefits too.
I hope the book can inspire people to see the pursuit of sustainability as a no-brainer in all digital projects.