Issue #5

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Curiously Green

Ambition, transparency and solutions
We’re at the tail end of winter and for many people, the cold dark months are starting to drag. To cheer you up, we thought we’d keep this issue extra positive. Spring is just around the corner and it’s time for us to daydream about sunshine and solutions.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be giving a talk at Mobile UX London about how to integrate sustainability into digital design. Do come along and say hello if you are in London on 5th March.

As always, hit reply to this email with your ideas, comments and feedback and it will come straight to my inbox.

– Tom Greenwood

Top picks from the green web

Microsoft commits to be carbon negative


The big news this month is that Microsoft have made the impressive announcement that they are committed to not just achieving net zero, but being carbon negative by 2030 and removing all historical emissions by 2050. This will begin with ambitious decarbonisation of their operations, internal carbon taxes, sustainability focused procurement and extracting CO2 from the atmosphere.

That last point is a challenge that we all face in our attempts to become “net zero”, and currently tree planting and other nature based solutions are the only real options, but Microsoft have committed $1 billion of their own money to accelerate the development of carbon extraction technologies.

I have been asked whether we should we trust this? Personally, I think the announcement is unusually thorough in its approach, which suggests that this is a serious commitment and not just a marketing gimmick. Of course, they don’t have all of the answers yet, but they’ve been honest about this and not shied away from taking on the challenge nevertheless. I think it sets a new standard for the tech industry that every company can learn from. Let’s hope they follow through.


BBC Future Planet publish digital emissions


Future Planet is the BBC’s new space devoted to reporting on climate change, environmental issues and solutions. They felt that it was important that they take leadership within the BBC and the media sector to demonstrate best practice in sustainability, and that started with being transparent about their impact.

Each Future Planet article now includes a note at the end stating the emissions from their physical work traveling to research each topic, and the digital emissions from its online readership. The digital impact is reported on a ‘per visitor’ basis, but when you consider that they receive hundreds of thousands of visitors per month, you get a sense of the scale of their impact. We helped the Future Planet team work out how to report this and they have published their method and assumptions here.

Hopefully this type of reporting will become more detailed over time, and other media outlets will follow their lead.


Small changes make a big difference


Danny van Kooten is a developer who produces and maintains a number of popular WordPress plugins.

Danny has done a deep dive into the carbon footprint of his work as a developer and the conclusions are fascinating. Removing a single 20kb JS dependency from the Mailchimp for WordPress plugin reduces CO2 emissions by 59 tonnes per month! That’s thanks to the plugin being used by around 2 million websites.

It highlights the power of making small improvements at scale, whether that be scale across the number of websites affected or scale of traffic. Little improvements multiplied by millions = big improvements.

Perhaps the most powerful part of this article for me is the comparison with other lifestyle choices such as travel and diet. It highlights that for web professionals working on projects at scale, optimising our work is by far the single best thing we can do to help combat climate change.

Quote of the month

Until energy is more expensive, we will keep thinking of new ways to waste it


Guy Singh-Watson

Book of the month

Drawdown by Paul Hawken


I was pleased to stumble across Drawdown in this Rich Roll interview with author Paul Hawken. Below its modest title is a significantly bolder subtitle – The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.

Hawken has led an expert team to research and document the top 100 solutions available today to help solve climate change. They have also quantified the potential impact of each solution and ranked them accordingly.

There are some expected solutions like solar and wind power, but there are also a lot of solutions that you might never have heard of, and some of them with immense potential. What’s more, the solutions range from things that require investment and policy from governments and large corporations, to things that we can help to action at a small scale.

This is essential reading for anyone trying to understand how they can make their highest contribution to solving the climate challenge.

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