Over the past few weeks, different teams at FutureGov have been explaining what they’re learning, doing and sharing when it comes to addressing the climate emergency.
When the product team came together to think about the role digital products play in the climate crisis, our brains went a bit blank. We’ve all begun changing our day-to-day consumption choices in favour of the environment, but what about our digital lives?
The reality is, the data centres behind most of our digital interactions have the same carbon footprint as the aviation industry at 2%, and this is set to rapidly rise. And while the idea of taking a train over flying has become increasingly normal, we aren’t having the same conversations about our data consumption.
The concept of the physical impact of the internet is inherently weird and intangible and perhaps that’s why some of us initially blanked. But as the product team is passionate about making things tangible, that’s exactly what we should be doing more of for the climate. Making sustainable product practices more tangible in public services.
Reuse code and design patterns
This is something we already do. By encouraging local authorities to learn and build on from one another, not only do we open-source our work and use open standards but we also reuse code and common design solutions.
Incorporate “sustainability measures” in service assessments
When getting new products approved in local and central government, they have to pass a set of requirements, covering things like data protection, accessibility and so on. This ensures that products meet both user and service needs. We should also be adding measures to interrogate how sustainable a product is.
Encourage the use of green hosting providers
To offset the energy required to run a data centre, green hosting providers try to balance the carbon footprint by investing in renewable energy sources and environmental NGOs. For this reason, we’re getting better at understanding how to monitor and report on suppliers in the market to inform more sustainable decision making.
Reduce data usage
We’re always looking to optimise products for both performance and accessibility reasons, making sure anything we build works well on older devices and slow connection speeds. This often results in smaller files, less storage, less compute and therefore less carbon. But technology itself and best practice constantly changes, and we’ll need to keep reviewing how we can make improvements to our practice.
Design planet-centred digital products
Not only do we want to encourage greener public services but where possible we want to deliver services that regenerate the communities and the environment they serve. This is probably where the product team has the biggest impact by building the tools that will enable these services.
So, what’s next?
This is only the beginning of our plans to centre regenerative design at the heart of everything that we do. While thinking about our response to the climate crisis was a little daunting at first, we see it as an opportunity to experiment and push our practice to places it’s never been before.