Collaborating as B Corps to create a Sustainable Web Design resource

Written by Tom Greenwood - February 4, 2021

When we started on our journey to understand the sustainability impact of our digital work about five years ago, the topic of Sustainable Web Design was almost unheard-of. But, in our search to find information, one name came up again and again – Tim Frick and his Chicago web design agency, Mightybytes

I’ve been hugely inspired by Tim and over the past few years, we’ve got to know each other as allies and as friends. In some ways Mightybytes is Wholegrain’s long lost relative across the pond. We’re both B Corps, both specialise in WordPress, focus on working with purpose-led clients, and are driven by a deep passion for sustainability and social justice.

Over the past year, I’ve been writing my book on Sustainable Web Design and Tim has been a great support to me through the process, having written several books himself, including Designing for Sustainability: A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products and Services. Last autumn, Tim suggested that the launch of my book would be a great time to launch a new version of SustainableWebDesign.org, a website that Mightybytes created about six years ago to introduce the topic to a wider audience.

Two agencies, one mission

The idea would be that we would work together to update the website with a new design and expand the content to include a wide range of practical resources, making it a central place to go to learn about Sustainable Web Design. 

One of the challenges that both Mightybytes and Wholegrain Digital face is finding the time to work on our unpaid community projects when we’re busy with client work. We felt that by pooling our resources, we could not only make the project viable, but would also benefit from the experience of working together and sharing knowledge. It’s rare to get the opportunity to see the inner workings of another agency, and the deep trust between our two businesses and our shared mission meant that this was the perfect opportunity.

So, we divided up the project

Both agencies would work together on planning the structure and creating the content. We also invited input from co-authors of the Sustainable Web Manifesto to help create an initial body of content that was holistic and included practical resources. 

Screenshot of sustainablewebdesign.org

Accordingly, the guide was designed to include sustainable design strategies that benefit society as well as the environment, and is organised with sections on key areas of digital work – Client & Project Ethos, Design, Development, Hosting, Content & Marketing, and Business Operations. This allows visitors to dive into the area most relevant to their work and find practical strategies and resources to help them apply sustainability principles.

With the initial content defined, Wholegrain worked on the design, following core sustainable design principles, aiming to create an experience that is not just highly efficient, but warm and inviting to a wide audience. Mightybytes acted as the client in the design process, championing the needs of stakeholders and collaborating to steer the design to a great outcome.

We then handed the designs over to the Mightybytes team for development. We had discussions about what technology to use. We wanted to deliver high levels of energy efficiency and web performance, while also ensuring that the content was easily maintainable. We considered a JAMstack approach, but in the end, we opted to use WordPress. This not only gave us the content editing benefits of WordPress so that we could easily evolve the content over time, but also made the project more achievable within the limited time available. Both of our agencies are experts in high efficiency WordPress development and when squeezing this project between client work, we felt that staying in our comfort zone was the right choice on this occasion.

Version one is now live!

The first version of the new SustainableWebDesign.org was launched last week ahead of our Understanding Sustainable Web Design webinar that we held together. The new website is hosted on Pantheon, benefiting from a high-performance and efficient platform, as well as renewable energy powered Google data centers. 

We’ve already designed some additional features such as dark mode and accessibility controls, which will be rolled out when time allows. The content will also evolve over time with community collaboration, and we hope that it will become a really valuable resource to accelerate the shift to a sustainable web.

It’s been a great experience collaborating with a fellow B Corp and a real privilege to learn from the team at Mightybytes. Here’s to more collaborations!