What would a sustainable WordPress community look like?

Written by Tom Greenwood - November 7, 2022

Last week, a visionary group within the WordPress community published a post in the WordPress project, calling for visions of what a truly sustainable WordPress community would look like. They published their own vision to get the ball rolling and asked for others to share theirs.

Naturally, the Wholegrain Digital team wants to contribute to this conversation and so we’ve put together an outline vision, combining some of our thoughts from where we are now with some of the vision that I presented back in 2017 at WordCamp Europe in Paris.

Collaboration

The foundation of a sustainable WordPress community must be in the quality of its collaboration. This means that work being done to improve sustainability needs to be shared openly, that it should be clear how others can get involved and that we must aim to move forward together.

The biggest barrier to this widespread collaboration may well be lack of awareness, as awareness of the environmental impact of digital technology is still very low. Creating an inclusive culture of collaboration will therefore need efforts to raise awareness within the WordPress community globally. This will need support from those in positions of influence within the community, helping others publish content, gain access to opportunities to speak at events and know how to engage on sustainability issues with the development of WordPress core itself. It will also need those with expertise in digital sustainability to offer help and guidance to others in the community to help embed this expertise.

Technology

As the world’s most popular content management system, there is a huge opportunity to make a significant positive impact if sustainability is taken seriously by the WordPress community at large. Even a small change in WordPress core could have big impacts at scale. Currently, by default, WordPress is not a particularly energy efficient piece of technology but the long term aim should be for it to become the most environmentally friendly CMS. This is a big ambition but combination of it being open source and supported by a passionate community means that real change is possible.

Our own work with WordPress and our Granola framework highlight just how efficient WordPress can be, especially when combined with efficient hosting technologies. Some areas where the WordPress community could potentially make a positive impact on a technical level are:

  • Stripping out unnecessary default features (bye bye Dolly!)
  • Building in features for helping clean out redundant content and media
  • Building in better image optimisation features
  • Adding in ways to increase uptake of features like page caching
  • Ensuring that default themes are best in class for efficiency
  • Ensuring that all recommended hosts have robust environmental policies and server caching by default and that this is communicated clearly

Events

Community events are a huge opportunity to build human connections and spread knowledge and inspiration. They’re also potentially a big source of environmental impact themselves, with people travelling from around the world, eating buffet food and going home with bags full of swag. A sustainable WordPress community might approach events as follows.

  • Ensure that an environmental talk is always on the agenda
  • Do more online and hybrid events
  • Do more local events and less global events to reduce the amount of flying within the community
  • Serve plant based food by default
  • Eliminate swag by default or charge a small supplement for people who want to opt in
  • Avoid disposable cups, plates, cutlery and bottles

Perhaps a good starting point would be for a standard set of environmental guidelines to be provided by the WordPress community for event organisers (and sponsors). This could be based off initiatives already proven by events such as London and Brighton that have had a focus on sustainability.

WordCamp Brighton tote bags and bananas

WordCamp Brighton has demonstrated best practices in eco-friendly event organisation

Commerce

Although WordPress is an open source project driven by community I think it’s healthy to acknowledge that there’s a significant commercial aspect to the WordPress community. We need this commercial aspect of the community to be aligned with a sustainable approach if we are to be successful in creating a truly sustainable community. This starts at the top with Automattic, who are hugely influential and could lead on the use of renewable energy in hosting and code efficiency across their products. It if course also includes hosting companies, commercial theme developers, plugin developers and of course digital agencies like ourselves. There could even be an official invitation for commercial entities in the WordPress space to openly share knowledge and support each other in adopting more sustainable practices.

A sustainable future for WordPress

I believe that the WordPress community is its greatest strength and that there are a lot of forward thinking people who will want to create a sustainable WordPress community. Doing so will be hugely influential within the digital sector more broadly and create a ripple effect of positive change. I believe that this is possible and it’s great to see that it is beginning.