Green I/O
#9 - Tim Frick - Confessions from a trailblazer in Sustainable Design
October 12, 2022
In this episode, we went to Chicago to meet a legend: Tim Frick 🧙. The author of “Designing for Sustainability” and a relentless advocate of the B Corp movement told us about being a trailblazer in Digital Sustainability 🌱 for more than a decade. He also took the challenge to answer 10 questions on Sustainable Design in 20 minutes + an 11th “low-ball” one ☑️ . Eventually, we discussed how his company created an “impact business model” because “sustainable design can be a really broad topic” covering all the way to business model through Corporate Digital Responsibility principles and the B Corp labellisation 🏷️
In this episode, we went to Chicago to meet a legend: Tim Frick  🧙. The author of “Designing for Sustainability” and a relentless advocate of the B Corp movement told us about being a trailblazer in Digital Sustainability 🌱 for more than a decade. He also took the challenge to answer 10 questions on Sustainable Design in 20 minutes + an 11th “low-ball” one ☑️ . Eventually, we discussed how his company created an “impact business model” because “sustainable design can be a really broad topic” covering all the way to business model and Corporate Digital Responsibility principles and B Corp labellisation 🏷️

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Transcript 


[00:00:00] Gael: Hello, everyone. As we discussed two weeks ago, design is a crucial step to enable truly sustainable digital products and services. Having the lowest possible carbon intensive electricity powering your hosting is great, but it's even better to have the lowest possible electricity consumption from the start.

As the expression goes, a good watt is a nega watt And to achieve this, we need sustainable designers taking into account all the environmental impacts of a product and beyond. for instance, Jim Christie coined the eight Horizons of Sustainable UX, but we'll come back to this point later.

In this second episode dedicated to sustainable design, we go to Chicago and meet a legend. And to meet a legend, we need a fairy tale! So, here it is! Once upon a time, there was a designer named Tim who was traveling the unwelcoming land of Mordor Inc. Back in the nineties. It was a narrow minded place where the short term financial bottom line was the only ring of power, finding all web professionals bringing them and in the darkness, binding them, riding his bike, an amazing low tech tool. Much mocked In the olden days, he became a digital sustainability advocate and he experienced the lonelyness of a trailblazer to fight it off. He regrouped with other trailblazers like Pete Markovitz, James Christie or Chris Adams to name just a few in an informal fellowship of the digital sustainability ring.

Eventually Tim built his own castle when he founded Mightybytes in 1998, helping mission driven organization amplify their impact. In 2016, he issued a beacon like warning, just like the one in Gondor to rally responsible technologists in the US and beyond. This beacon was a book "designing for sustainability, a guide to building greener digital products and services" published by O'Reilly Media. Excuse me, sir! Is it the end of the story? Not at all, but we will have the chance to hear the following chapters from the hero himself. Welcome Tim. Thanks a lot for joining Green I/O today. 

[00:02:12] Tim: Thanks so much and that is an awesome and amazing intro. And thank you for, for doing it. I laughed when I read it and it's even better hearing you recite it.

[00:02:20] Gael: You're more than welcome. But, what did I miss in my fairy tale actually about you?

[00:02:26] Tim: I think that, I mean, obviously I'm 56 years old, so I've had a lot of time. I've been in the digital Space for, you know, since the early nineties. You know, there's probably a lot that was missed, but probably not a lot that's relevant to this conversation. I did just do a climate ride last weekend. you mentioned cycling and I do love to ride my bike and, the ride that I did the Green Fondo in, in, Western New York raised $300,000 for environmental charities in the United States. and so that is one thing that I really like to do. I try to do at least one of those each year. and climate ride is very near and dear to my heart, as are some of the other nonprofits that we work with, like the Alliance for the Great Lakes. really big, big fan of, you know, combining cycling and advocacy, so to speak. 

[00:03:07] Gael: That's a great mix. 

[00:03:08] Tim: Yeah, I think so. 

[00:03:09] Gael: so it seems that sustainability, and you, you go the long way, but how did you become interested in sustainability, at least sustainability of our digital sector in in the first the first place? 

[00:03:19] Tim: Yeah, sure. I mean, I've, I've always, I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, so I had lots of ample access to nature as a kid. and so I've always really been. You know, an environmentalist in, in my heart and soul. And so when the opportunity to certify as a B Corp my company to certify as a B Corp in 2011 came along, you know, that's not only an environmental, certification.

It, it focuses on social and governance issues as well. and so, you know, taking that kind of lifelong passion for nature and conservation in the environment and trying to figure out how to apply that to my business, that's what we did when we certified as a B Corp in 2011.

And it was a really eyeopening experience. If you don't know what B Corp certification is, it's a, it's a rigorous certification for businesses to help align your business practices with stakeholder needs and, and stakeholders are defined as community and environment and, customers, workers, you know, all the stakeholders that you kind of think of as a business, you know, that your organization touches on. And so, you know, we're a digital agency. We went through this certification process in 2011. we build digital products and services for clients. So as we went through that process, we started thinking, well, how does this apply? How does the idea of a sustainable, environmentally friendly business apply to the process of digital?

And right around the same time, we were starting to read, reports about the massive environmental impact of the internet. and we thought, Well, that's the thing that we build for a living. so what should we do? And so as a company, we kind of put our heads together and came up with, you know, we wrote a sustainable product manifesto.

We just really rethank our digital processes, so that we could, you know, kind of put sustainability at the heart of them. and I think we were one of the early companies and early agencies, at least in the digital space to do that. and so, you know, we, we applied that to adding a lot of content to our blog. We started working on how we were reducing our carbon footprint as a company and telling that story via our blog. then we, in 2013, we were launched a free tool called Ecograder, which is still around today, and we actually just gave it redesign last week and these things kind of then in turned into, a TEDx talk. Speaking engagements. I wrote a book as you mentioned, you know, et cetera. So it really kind of just, snowballed essentially, from, you know, thinking about how we could redesign our own practices as a business into helping others do the same.

[00:05:35] Gael: And the B Corp certification was the kick starter. 

[00:05:37] Tim: Yeah, I think, you know, it was, we had gone through a, a different environmental certification prior to becoming a B Corp and it was more like an office certification, so it was about putting in low flush toilets and, LED lighting and and that kind of, stuff. whereas the B Corp certification was much more rigorous and much more kind of, as they say, triple bottom line, you know, where, where you're focusing not just on environmental impact, but also social and economic as well. 

[00:06:01] Gael: Okay. And Tim, I know it might sound counter intuitive to our listeners, but you haven't talked that much about design these last few years. You focus more and more on promoting the B Corp movement as you just did. As well as the CDR concept. but on the other end, you are still an O'Reilly author in sustainable design and that means something.

So I'd like us to split our discussion in two. We will take the time to talk at length about B Corp and CDR. But let's start first with sustainable design. And for this first part to be both efficient and fun, what about a little game? I'd like us to do a quizz together. The idea is to highlight where we are, but also the past we have already covered thanks to more and more technologists behaving responsibly. So I have 10 questions related to your book and the articles you wrote afterwards. And you have two minutes to answer each of them. So be brutally honest. Are you in? 

[00:06:58] Tim: I'm in. yeah. Well, two minutes. No pressure! 

[00:07:01] Gael: Not at all. So here we go. For every question, you have two minutes to answer. In chapter three of your book, you describe an almost comic five years journey to find the perfect green Host.

A Tale of Green Hosting woe. What about green hosting today? Is it still a struggle?

[00:07:20] Tim: Yeah, I think, you know, to answer this in two minutes, I think it is, and the struggle is based on, the fact that the renewable energy sector is rapidly evolving. And so, you know, it's up to all of us to kind of keep up to tabs on what's going on with all of it. As a small company, we wanted to support other small businesses. we wanted to support other bCorps and stuff like that, so we wanted to find a good small green hosting company. turns out that wasn't easy and it took us, as you noted, five, five plus years. We tried a whole bunch of different small, hosting part providers and, and what we found is that, you know, what they had in a commitment to renewable energy, they sometimes lacked in customer service and support and uptime and security.

And so we wanted to find a one partner that would really you know, help with all of that stuff. At one point when working with one of those smaller partners, we had. You know, all of our websites that were, we are hosting for clients go down in a single day. And so, like we, imagine having all of your clients calling on a single day saying: "Hey, this is broken and you need to fix it".

It was pretty stressful. So, we ended up going with a, a company that housed their solution, atop Google cloud platform. At the time Google was pretty far ahead of other big tech companies in terms of their commitment to renewable energy. and so the partner that we chosed checked all the boxes in terms of renewable energy, but also in terms of security, uptime and customer service and stuff like that. While they weren't the small tiny company that we really initially wanted to work with, it was ultimately the best service for our needs. And so, you know, that was the mid to 2000 2010s. We've been working with them since. but you know, the renewable energy landscape , is much more complicated now than it was back then to get back to your initial question about the struggle 

[00:08:50] Gael: Yeah. Got it. A fair trade off. Okay. Question number two. In 2016 you stated that CO2 emitted by the internet was mostly from data centers with streaming playing a big role too. What would be your position today? 

[00:09:02] Tim: We have more information I think. You know, when I was writing Designing for Sustainability, there was very little publicly available research on the topic, at least that I was aware of. I did scour the internet, I scoured research portals and all that kind of stuff to find information.

But there was a lot of gaps in the knowledge. You know, I devoted entire, chapter of Designing for Sustainability to how difficult it was to estimate digital emissions from a product like a website. So, I think that, now I would say not just data centers, but also network traffic and consumer and devices and, you know, there's a lot of touchpoints in the entire ecosystem that are all, you know, the internet uses requires electricity to run.

And so, there are emissions coming from all of it. Especially since so much of it is still to this day, powered by fossil fuels. Last year we collaborated with Wholegrain Digital, the Green Web Foundation and a few others to kind of review all the academic research on digital carbon calculation so that we could include estimates in Ecograder, but then also to make sure that the estimates, carbon calculation estimates in Ecograder and EcoPing and Website Carbon were all kind of the same, or, very, very similar., because when you get wildly different answers from all of these tools, it sends a pretty confusing message.

And so we wanted to make sure that there was parity around that. And so, we took and, made some, assumptions around, like I said, network traffic and data centers and consumer end devices and stuff like that to come up with a general estimation formula for estimating emissions from digital products.

Now it's, you know, not meant to be a full replacement for a life cycle assessment. it's not the be-all and end-all resource for digital carbon calculation. We admit this fully when we were putting the methodology together that, you know, we welcome feedback that things are gonna change and, there's probably new resources that are gonna come out that are gonna change this methodology that we put together.

But, you know, we did it and, and we put it out there publicly and openly in the hopes to get feedback. And we've already updated it four or five times since you know, putting it out there initially or last late last year. 

[00:10:56] Gael: Yeah. But that's true that with a big rise in smartphone usages and all these other electronic devices that the share of the electricity being consumed by data centers has actually shrunken compared devices, 

[00:11:10] Tim: and they're getting more efficient and they're powering their servers with renewable energy. So there's, Yeah. there's a whole, it's like I said earlier, it's a landscape 

[00:11:16] Gael: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. So let's go for question number three. In the first chapter, you dedicated actually it connects pretty well with what we've just said. In the first chapter, you dedicated some space to internet of things with I would say, mixed feelings, trying to balance between its potential positive impact to decrease wasteful behaviors and the huge negative environmental footprint of all those devices.

How would you assess today the potential of iot, for instance, to boost the circular economy? 

[00:11:44] Tim: Yeah. yeah, I think that that's a really valid question and we should be all thinking about that now. You know everything that we build requires electricity, those of us who are in digital. And so, constantly thinking about how to balance value versus impact on these things is really important. And, and for those of us in the digital sustainability space, it's really easy to get caught up in obsessing over every little performance issue in the name of reducing digital emissions. And while that's really important, it's also not the only thing, you know, if you think about the internet and the greater, bigger picture of the internet, there's a lot of privacy issues, there's a lot accessibility issues.

Like all these things kind of go hand in hand with the sustainability issues and stuff. And so we really need to be thinking about all of them. Especially as we look at emerging technologies like AI and blockchain and IoT, et cetera. and so, you know, thinking about how do these things advance sustainable development goals? But then how do we also, as we're advancing those sustainable development goals, how do we also make sure that the impact of these things is positive and, lightweight in terms of emissions and stuff like that.

The UN Environment program earlier this year put out a codes action plan, the Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability. And they asked for three shifts to happen. One was to kind of create the enabling conditions to align vision, values and objectives in the digital age with sustainable development.

Something that we haven't really done a good job at so far, collectively as an industry. The next is to mitigate negative impacts. So, you know, committing to sustainable digitalization. So that's kind of what we're talking about, reducing emissions and reducing the social and environmental impacts of digital technologies.

And then the third is to accelerate innovation. And I think this is kind of touches, right? And the main crux of what you're talking about with IoT. Advancing investments in digitalization for sustainability so that we can accelerate, and deploy sustainability driven product services, et cetera.

And I think, you know, with all of these things in that codes action plan, it's a really good clear roadmap for how you can use things like IoT to advance the circular economy and stuff. 

[00:13:38] Gael: Yeah, it makes total sense. The fourth one will be an easier one. To put it mildly AWS didn't have a clean sustainability record in your book. Is it still the case six years later?

[00:13:49] Tim: Yeah, I think, it is easy for me because we made an active case not to work with Amazon Web Services. you know, at the time that we were doing that five year journey I mentioned earlier, looking for a good green host, they were not getting good marks at all. In fact, they got not only bad marks for their commitments to renewable energy, but then also bad marks for accountability and transparency and stuff.

And so we just walked away from them. We were like, We don't wanna be a part of that. We don't wanna support that kind of behavior in our supply chain. and so, you know, I've heard that AWS has gotten better and that they have made bigger commitments to renewable energy and such, but I, I can't really make any kind of judgment call on that myself because, you know, we haven't, we haven't used them and, and have ever worked with them. 

[00:14:29] Gael: Which is very wise

[00:14:31] Tim: Yeah I think the more important issue here is that companies need to act with transparency and accountability in all of their business operations. So, you know, that wasn't the case AWS, and I don't think it still is. most large multinational companies are in the same boat for that matter, and so we wanna make sure that we're aligning ourselves with organizations who care for accountability, transparency, sustainability, et cetera. 

[00:14:54] Gael: Okay. Uh, let's go hands on now. You dedicated a significant part to lifecycle assessment in your first chapter, especially the virtual LCA framework created by Pete Markievicz. How many virtual LCA have Mightybytes performed since 2016? And could you provide any feedback on the framework? 

[00:15:12] Tim: Yeah, I, I'd love to say that we've done a ton of them. And that it's a kind of a core part of our process, but the reality is that most of our clients don't understand what an LCA is, especially one that is for digital. And it's not really on their radar. Like most of our clients don't even understand what a digital footprint is, or, or if they do, they have just a very cursory knowledge of what it is.

And so getting them to pay for a service related to this like an LCA which is complicated and takes a lot of time is a challenge. you know, we do what we can to educate them. We have an education impact business model as part of our company, so we dedicate resources to providing and putting educational content out there in the world.

But many of our clients, you know, they're either not interested, It's not on their radar. Or if they're smaller, they don't have the resources to invest in something like an LCA. A nd So maybe something an Ecogader tool at least will help them understand, what the issues are and, and what are things that they might be able to do. We did just work with a large university here in the Chicagoland area to help them kind of measure their digital footprint of their core website, they're, larger organizations so that they've got hundreds of individual, departmental and, and school and college based websites and stuff.

And so we started the process of, of using one of those websites and saying, Hey, this is the environmental impact or potential environmental impact of that. It's not a full lca, but it is a step in the right direction. And it's, you know, one of the first clients of ours that, that, really expressed an interest in this.

They're in the process of undergoing or redesign of their full, of all of their sites of across the university. So for us to be able to do this and say, This is your baseline. Here's where you're at right now, now you need to move forward and, and think about how to improve this. It's a really good and, useful tool for them so that, cuz they have a baseline now.

And so that when they're identifying specific tools like a content management system you know, page designs and page weights and stuff like that, they're able to actually say, well this is the baseline of where we're at and we just wanna make sure that we improve from here.

[00:17:04] Gael: So it connected to what you've just said about the slow rate of adoptions. Let's talk about standards. In 2016, you advocated for them, despite their slow adoption and with a small number of web professionals you started a World Wide Web Consortium, so W3C, community group It is dedicated to sustainable web design, which I had the pleasure to join last month. What happened this last seven years regarding standards? 

[00:17:32] Tim: Yeah, actually it's 2013 when we, we started this, so it's even been more than seven years. 

The Worldwide Web Consortium reached out there's someone I know here in Chicago, that's part of their team and, said, Hey, we're starting these community groups. They're not necessarily. Standards defining groups, but their groups to talk about issues related to what web standards could be.

So initially the W3C community group was really about, you know, professionals sharing ideas and sharing resources. And so for many years that community group just was about people sharing links and resources that they had found that may or may change your thinking about, you know, how you're thinking about sustainability for digital.

Since the pandemic though, awareness of digital and the environmental impact of digital has really grown, in fact it's kind of exploded since the pandemic, since we're all now chained to our computers every day, all day and working from home and all that kind of stuff we've seen a rise in the membership of this group and, and earlier this year. I mentioned the digital calculation, emissions calculation project that we worked on with Wholegrain Digital and the Green Web Foundation. Once we finished that, we kind of said, Well, now what? And, and one of the things was, Well, we should start thinking about how to supplies to legislation and regulation and standards, you know, the W3C has been, you know, widely renowned for, for their accessibility guidelines that's kind of what they're known for.

And so we thought, well, that community group that we started so many years back could actually be a good place to, to be a stepping stone, to actually getting to a place where we have sustainability and environmental standards for the internet. And so, you know, we're just focusing on websites and, and digital products and service. as part of our group, but there's another sustainability group within the W3C. And I, and I do think that there's gonna be a movement towards, you know, getting, actual standards. It's a long way off in the US. I know over in Europe you have a lot more standards around right to repair you know, a bunch of related things. We're still fledgling here in the US, but it's a good step in the right direction. And so, we're pushing forward and, build as much of a coalition in this community group as we can with as many diverse participants and, and perspectives as we can.

You know, we can't just make standards based on any one group's, you know, thoughts or ideas. we wanna really create a good diverse sustainable design group that we can in turn use to inform whatever these standards might end up being. 

[00:19:49] Gael: Cool. And you mentioned regulation, which is fortunate because that was my 7th question. There was no mention of state regulation in your book. And so, you know, in Europe we see quite a lot of momentum being impulsed by the European Parliament as well as some local ones to fight planned obsolescence, to increase product warranty. You mentioned also right to repair even, you know, the, European Parliament standardized chargers with USB-C. So, what do you think about it regulation? Do, do we also need some kind of global green certification for ICT as advocated by Mike Grifford from Civic Action? 

[00:20:26] Tim: you know, I'm, I'm all for that. I think, it's wild wide west right now. We're really at the kind of bleeding edge of what's going on right now with all of this stuff, and it's very exciting to see a lot of people jumping onto it and, and getting excited about digital sustainability.

There's potential for misinformation. there's opportunity for things to go in all, any number of different directions, which is good. But also, you know, if you're talking about getting standards going, there has to be consensus around certain things.

And I, and I do believe there should be regulation around these things. Digital sustainability is not on political radar here in the US. we can barely get a clean energy bill passed, which is kind of frustrating, but that being said, you know, data privacy, right to repair that, those things are on the books in several US States, so it is possible we could see similar bills related to renewable energy and specific to digital down the line.

you know, we live in the world of big tech here in the United States, and so the big tech companies often spend lots of money lobbying politicians for laws to work in their favor. 

so it's a complicated scenario. I do think we need regulation, but getting it is not easy task in the United States, at least. As far as certifications go, I think that there should be some, some green certifications. I've been working on a couple of syllabus for digital sustainability class. you know, one of them covers sustainable web design similar to the W3C community group. Another one is more like operationalizing. You mentioned earlier that I don't talk about design that much. I actually do talk about design a lot, but it's really more the, name of organization design than it is specific to digital. So many of these decisions are made by business leaders who don't have the right tools at their disposal. To make good and more sustainable and responsible and ethical decisions when it comes to digital.

And so you know, I do think that there's, it's really important to talk to them about the importance of design and, and what that can do for their organization. 

[00:22:11] Gael: And okay, I'm gonna take a joker here. and let's say this is, question seven B, because what you mentioned about, I'm cheating on with my own rules. That's how bad it is. But you mentioned something very interesting about the fact that in the US some states are pushing for more regulation. And for instance, we can mention New York State, recently passed a bill for the right to repair.

But how does it work in the US for the, the non-US listeners? Will it help to have like, let's say, California, Michigan and and New York having already passed some bills to increase digital product warranty, for instance? Or will it create, a bit of a nightmare when it comes to, red tape and regulation and that will stop everything? How do you see it evolve? 

[00:22:55] Tim: you know, I think it's a good question and it's not a simple answer. I think, there's a certain amount of red tape that comes along with any regulation, whether it's digital specific or not. We have a lot of the politicians in the United States they're woefully behind in their education on digital. and so, You know, helping them understand what some of the issues are, especially some of these emerging issues around the emerging technologies like iot that you mentioned earlier and stuff. You know, that's not on a lot of politicians radar, so helping them understand what it is is gonna help cut down that red tape.

in terms of how it works, I've gone and lobbied politicians myself in Washington, DC many times on behalf of climate and, and sustainability and stuff. It's a good and useful process that anyone can go through. And, a, as an American, that is a really rewarding thing to go and actually, you know, talk to politicians and, and hope that your conversation is gonna actually help educate them on some of these issues. But the process a, in a wildly split, democracy like we have, is not easy. As much as you can do on the education side, there's still the process of drafting a bill and getting that bill passed and, kind of the contention that happens in, in the political process here in the United States.

So it's a frustrating scenario for sure, especially if you're a citizen of this country. however, you know, as you noted, California, New York, et cetera, have made progress. And some States do make progress on these things. And, you know, when people see that they work and that they actually make change happen, there tends to be that lowers the barrier to entry for other states to consider the same.

[00:24:26] Gael: Okay. Thanks a lot for the highlights. Actually, I'm realizing that the next three questions I should have regrouped them with a earlier once, But that's how it is because they're more focused on design and, they're pretty short, like question number eight is about page weight budget You know, you, you talked about page weight budget several time in your book Tom Greenwood, also wrote an article about it a couple of years ago. He mentioned it in his book as well, but on the ground, is it a tool that you use often at Mightybytes?

[00:24:56] Tim: I wrote a blog post about page weight budgets back in 2018. And, know, I'm definitely an advocate for them. I think they're, really smart. you know, my understanding or my, experience with talking to clients about them is page weight budgets are fine and all as long as the client can get what they want. You know, there becomes a kind of natural tension there because they're talking about throwing videos and big hero images and all of these elements onto a page. And you're meanwhile saying: "We need to bring this in. We need to pull it back. It's not, the page isn't gonna load fast enough" and stuff like that. So, you know, we typically outline the concept to our clients upfront and say, Hey we really should shoot for this. Our goal is to make every page that we designed for our clients and help our clients understand the importance of performance and keeping page weight down.

That doesn't necessarily mean that we are super strict about like, you know, we absolutely cannot go over X amount of kilobytes per page. The HTTP archive does a web almanac every year, and this year, for the first time ever, they included a chapter on sustainability, which is really exciting because that's the first time, a major publication like this is, that talks about the state of how the web is built is including sustainability as part of the game and part of the conversation. That chapter advocates for a a page weight, a targeting, a page weight budget of 500 kilobytes and an absolute maximum of one megabyte per page.

and yet, you know, the average webpage is still well over two megabytes. so, you there's a big gap between what we should be doing and what we actually are doing. And so there's a long way to go. but I think that, you there is increased knowledge of this and an increased, kind of awareness of this issue and so, hopefully, there, we're gonna see more improvement over time on all of this. And, in our case, educating our clients around this helps them understand why, no, they can't put this, they need to optimize their images. They can't put this big video on their homepage, et cetera. You know, and on the flip side of that, from an SEO perspective, know, Google prioritizes lengthy, detailed tutorials and how-to articles and search results.

And many of our clients, you know, SEO is part of their, their digital marketing goals. And so they wanna make sure that they're ranking really well. And so if you've got Google saying, Hey, your 3,500 word blog post with 10 images in it is gonna perform better than, you know, a small, you know, 1200 word post with two images, you're talking about, you know, your marketing strategy being actually at odds with the climate strategy, if if they have a climate strategy. and so, there's a natural tension there between page weight and performance and also meeting business goals and user needs 

[00:27:22] Gael: hmm. Fair enough, Fair enough. And let's keep talking about a sustainable design. To which extent would you still emphasize today, how the mobile first approach and progressive enhancements are important? Do you, do you think the battle has been won on these two aspects?

[00:27:38] Tim: I, I'm still amazed at how many, digital products and services still don't have a really good, useful mobile user experience, or even just across devices and platforms. it's definitely a better scenario than it was, you know, say 10 years ago or even five years ago. 

Progress has been made, but there's still, you know, people make poor design choices that really frustrate users and, and they kind of cast their businesses in a bad light. What ultimately happens a lot of times in, in our case and in in an agency smaller than ours project budgets, sometimes forced designers to make choices. You know, they have to choose between multiple mediocre solutions. So in other words, it should never be, you could have accessibility or you could have a mobile optimized experience.

It should always be both. However, many client expectations is that their website should have a low cost, and should be turned around in a very short period of time. And sometimes it forces designers and web teams to choose between, you know, bad choices or, take, turning down the work altogether because the budget isn't adequate enough.

I mean, I would say when we started turning down work because of budget misalignment that really made a major shift in our agency. But, you know, there's not a lot of agencies that will do that. and, And there's always another agency that's willing to pick up that project for half the price or whatever, and, and then they cut corners and they release a bad solution.

And that's how we get the internet being in the place where it's at. Because, you know, designers and developers are the ones building Clients are the ones paying for it. And we ultimately end up with kind of shoddy half paid digital solutions, which is, you know, not optimal. 

[00:29:06] Gael: hmm. Yeah. Fair point. Fair point. And my last question will be quite the same, but regarding Agile and Lean methodology, because you made quite a case for both of them as a way to avoid waste and promote more sustainable design in your book. Would you still emphasize this point today? Do you believe Agile has won the battle now?

[00:29:25] Tim: I'm still a fan. However, I, I say that with a caveat. Agile has definitely, expanded, you know, and, and, many more organizations use it and it's, I believe it's a good approach. It's good for efficiently developing digital products and services, but it also has some serious pitfalls.

You know many companies call themselves agile without properly following the principles. They follow this idea of speed to delivery. H owever, oftentimes speed to delivery and sprinting to get to the end leads to ineffectual, poor code that needs to be refactored.

And, and, you know, they don't go back and refactor that code. and, so lots of organizations will release something and instead of it being just a draft or just kind of something to test out a concept, it becomes production code. And, that accrues technical debt over time. And ultimately those things become slow.

They become bloated. They don't really work very well. They provide a really frustrating user experience, et cetera. And the flip side of that, as an agency owner, it's also really challenging to shoehorn, kind of capital A agile, the very standard agile processes into an agency model.

And that's how many digital products and services are built. You know, Companies hire. Agencies to build them, 

They also want to know right up front how much a project is gonna cost and how long it's gonna take. And that can be at odds with Agile's kind of inherent flexibility.

so I, you know, I know there are workarounds for this. Most agencies, myself included, call their process Agile-ish. 

And they're not as rigorous maybe as they could be. I don't know that a lot of agencies that are really, really super rigorous in the official framework of Capital A Agile without making some, you know, kind of internal concessions. 

[00:30:58] Gael: Fair point! Tim. Actually, I have an 11th question, and you already touched upon it a bit. this could be seen as a "low ball", but I promise you it's not, It's just that in Europe, it's a bit of a debate at the moment. an interesting debate. not, not a stupid one. And it relates to website carbon calculator. you already talked a bit about Ecograder. in your book you dedicated a full chapter, to this adventure. But what happened is that these last couple of years, several thought leaders in digital sustainability field like David Mytton in the UK or Gauthier Roussilhe in France, for instance, they have raised serious concerns about the flows in their methodology.

In full disclosure, this is something that you've mentioned already in your book and that you even started to mention a bit earlier in the show. And I also interviewed, someone quite on the opposite, side. I would say on the other hand, because I recently spoke to James Christie to prepare our interview who told me he stopped caring at all.

for two main reasons, which are quoting him word for word, whatever the score is, less bytes is always better. And it is an easy sale because data efficient sites have many other benefits to users in businesses. That was reason number one.

Reason number two, I decided to worry less about the calculations and more about what we use the internet for. So you already started to discuss a bit about it, the the need to be open and transparent regarding the methodology. But where do you stand today in this carbon calculated debate? If I could name it that way?

[00:32:30] Tim: Sure. You know, we've invested a, a ton of time, money, and energy into upgrading Ecograder in the last couple years. So obviously I think there's some value to it. you know, I, wouldn't be doing that if didn't, if I didn't think there was some value to know, finding it out. however, I I think that there's a really important distinction here.

Tools like Ecograder and Website Carbon are meant for people who don't understand this topic really well. I understand the concern that like, oh, you know, if, if I don't understand it, and then suddenly I see my grades get, you know, my website's getting a crappy score. you know, the idea is to educate and inform and hopefully take action. I, I think you're right, the methodologies for Ecograder as well as website carbon has been kind of developed out in the open. You know, we've been very clear about it's not meant to be the be-all, end-all.

It is changing over time. as we learn new information, we tweak it and adjust it and stuff like that, and for Ecograder, we want the tool to be as easy to understand and actionable as possible. And so we put a lot of effort into making it educational to making it, something that people can look at and be like, ah, okay. That's an, a, real clear path that I can take to making a difference. you know, it's again, not meant to be a replacement for a full life cycle assessment. but most of the people who use these tools wouldn't have the skills to do a full life cycle assessment anyway. You know, the people who have been doing digital sustainability for a long time probably do, and they probably can do that for their clients. however, someone using Ecograder and seeing, oh, you know, my big website that runs slowly on mobile devices is really causing problems and that there's an actual environmental impact to that. You know, that's a light bulb for a lot of people still here in 2022, and so we wanna make sure that we're, we're creating something that is useful for that group of people.

I think, it's completely valid to criticize the methodology and to criticize what's going on. However, that by the same token, climate change is happening now, we don't have the luxury of saying, Okay, let's spend a few years working on this research and making sure that we're getting it right.

We can't split hairs over whose data or methods are more accurate. We wanna make sure that, you know, we're moving towards solutions right away. And so from my perspective, anything that helps move us towards that and I include Website Carbon, Ecograder, EcoPing, et cetera, towards that is a good thing.

I think a a really good thing. It's, again, not meant to be a replacement for an LCA, but I think that these are education awareness tools to help people better understand some of the issues. And so, to me that's a good thing. 

[00:34:53] Gael: That's funny because on a different topic, but related, obviously we had this discussion last week with Anne Faubry and Tom Jarrett about a post thorsten Jonas wrote saying " you know, When I enter a room to give a conference on sustainable UX or related topics, I'm always like, Okay. they're gonna get bored. It's obvious they know everything. And at the end of the conference, I'm always stunned by how many people come back to me and say, Well, I've never heard about this before. That's eye-opening. thanks a lot for bringing up that topic, et cetera, et cetera. And he's, he is got a point, he asked the question in the Slack workspace, And I think he's got a point with, we tend, the minute we start paying attention to digital sustainability, to read a lot of stuff, reach out, you know, a lot of people.

And we built quite a good level of knowledge pretty fast. But on the other end, it's still completely cryptic for, most of our fellow workers. 

[00:35:52] Tim: And especially business leaders, which I know is gonna get into section two of our interview, but like business leaders are really, really challenged by this 

[00:35:59] Gael: Oh, my God, Tim, you are the you are the perfect guest because let's go for, I mean, you, you've done a remarkable job. I didn't want not to talk about sustainable design, but I know this is what you are, that what you are really into today is like sustainable organization, as you mentioned earlier, and also all this involvement around the B Corp and CDR

so, you know, quite often I ask my guest a challenging question. You go about the why, the purpose, the question is: "Did you find yourself in situations where making tech greener was not enough, no matter how reduced and offset the scope 3 of your client's operation were, et cetera, et cetera. But let's be honest with you, I don't need to ask you this question.

This issue was already mentioned in your book, quoting you here word for word: " mission statement, and core values affect digital sustainability". That's it, period. And it is at the heart of your involvement in the B Corp movement and the CDR. 

So now the floor is yours. Could you tell us more about it? Do you believe sustainable design is enough to green our digital world? And obviously you mentioned that no, it was not enough. And that's also a question of how business are run. So please let us know what you are into at the moment. 

[00:37:10] Tim: Sure. Yeah. I think, you know, sustainable design can be a really broad topic. It it can be digital design, it can be print design, it can be organization design. It can mean that, you know, there's a lot of design disciplines that can kind fall under sustainability. And so, I've kind of evolved my thinking a little bit, for a few different reasons. One MightyBytes clients, my company's clients are purpose driven organizations, B Corps, nonprofits, social enterprises, et cetera. They're interested in making a difference but a lot of this stuff is kind of cryptic to them. however, they don't really wanna get into the details of whether or not SVG over css Sprites is, you know, I mean, they don't wanna go down that rabbit hole.

They want to know that this rabbit hole is being taken care of, they, they really want to know the high level stuff. And this is actually one of the main reasons we designed Ecograder like we did. You can look at an Ecograder report and very quickly understand, where the issues are related to your website on and sustainability.

but you can also drill down and, and figure out all the nuances and stuff the, it's the business leaders that are making the decisions to fund a lot of this stuff. And so the projects are not gonna get off the, ground, if designers aren't on the C-Suite team or if the business leaders don't understand sustainable design. And so, while I say sustainable design is, you know, a great tool to do green in our digital world. It has to be embraced by a much broader group of stakeholders and business leaders are really Mightybytes target market, you know, and organizational leaders, people in, in heading up marketing and communications and that kind of stuff.

Those are really who we're trying to talk to. And so, you know, we have to temper the message without getting into the weeds of the kind of technology and the specific design and development tactics, they don't necessarily need to or want to know about that. 

Um, what they do wanna understand is, is how is this gonna impact my business?

What my organization does better? and so because of this, I started focusing, you know, long around, I wanted to say 2017, 2018. A lot of my writing and a lot of our work and presentation work on. More you know, business related things, and business decision related things. and so we, I was approached in 2021 by a bunch of researchers, most of whom were from Europe, on defining, a clear definition of Corporate Digital Responsibility. So, Corporate Social Responsibility has been around since the 1950s. There's been this kind of, you know, push towards creating things like an 18th sustainable development goal with the UN that is specifically focused on digital.

Really the idea is that like, how do we create more ethical, responsible, and sustainable digital practices and processes within organizations? While designers can be, you know, lead the charge within an organization on actually implementing those things, it's usually the business leaders that will fund those or say, Yeah, that's the thing that we need to do. And unfortunately, as I said, most organizations don't have a designer in C-Suite, which is really unfortunate. So all that being said, at Mightybytes, we've moved to talking about this in a little bit of a different way.

[00:40:05] Gael: Yeah, I just wanted to ask you, how is this, corporate digital responsibility concept being adopted around the world? 

[00:40:11] Tim: Slowly, you know, similar to digital suspense sustainability, it's probably a few years behind that. You know I think that people are interested, they see the stories about all these kind of unintended consequences that occur from digital products and services. and there are a lot of them are a lot of examples of those. And so people are interested in figuring out a framework that they can apply , to their own organizations. And so, I worked with these researchers and academics and authors in Europe to come up with a definition, which is at the CDR manifesto. and you know, there's seven kind of core CDR principles. It's very similar to kind of a CSR framework, but it's very specific to digital.

Again, anybody, any organization can adopt it and implement it. but it's still pretty new to most organizations, I'd say. 

[00:40:56] Gael: And so the question is, how did you apply it at Mightybytes? 

[00:41:00] Tim: for us it just, it was about taking what we are already doing, kind of in in environmental , services and applying it to social and and governance as well. As a B Corp, it was easy to do because we were already looking at our stakeholders as dedicated partners whose needs we were trying to work on and meet as we ran our own business.

What it meant is we created things like an impact business model. So many companies, they will make money and then they'll, maybe they'll give a free product to a needy community. Or they'll, donate a portion of their proceeds at the end of the year to know, nonprofits and stuff like that Whereas an impact business model, actually allows you and enables you to create impact with the way that you make money. So for us, while sustainable digital design was kind of this thing that we did know, here and there, we made it official and we made policies around sustainability, accessibility, and education.

And so we have three impact business models for Mightybytes, where the work that we do, you know, allows us to make money and also creates positive social and environmental impact. and that that's a part of, that's just now built into our business model. 

[00:42:04] Gael: Okay. and that's something different, than the triple bottom line, the financial, but also environmental and societal. Is it something that is, operated by the CDR or is it something different? Because I know that's CSR that try to create, these, you know, these two missing bottom lines because you, you mentioned like, you know how business are run mostly via financial, bottom line I mean, And we tend now with carbon accounting to have a bit of an environmental bottom line, as well. And for the societal, bottom line, I think we are still chasing it. But is it related or is it something different when you build a impact business model? 

[00:42:40] Tim: It's all related and I I think that's the most important thing for, for people and organizations to remember is this this stuff is all related. You can have the most carbon efficient website, but if it's promoting tobacco use and it's not paying, and the people who own it not paying a living wage, you know, there's all these kind of related intersectional issues.

There's a really amazing book called the Intersectional Environmentalist by Leah Thomas. And I highly advocate for anybody, who's into this stuff to read it because it really talks about how all of these issues are related to one another and how they all impact one another.

And so it's not just about carbon accounting, it's about carbon accounting and access to information and, you know, broadband access and all of these other accessibility and these other kind of related topics. 

All of them need to be considered hand in hand with one another. And that's why I like cdr, framework because it does that. 

[00:43:31] Gael: We will put the reference in the show notes. Definitely. Well that was really interesting. And did you manage to interact with clients using already the CDR principles or are there still a bit in research phase rather than operational phase? 

[00:43:45] Tim: We have incorporated some of them in our own , client work and and that kind of thing. There are definitely some research going on. I think there's, a call or a need for really great case studies. know, It's one thing for a small digital agency like Mightybytes, to say, Hey, we're using these principles to operate our business.

But, you know, once you get a larger company or many larger companies, you know, creating case studies and, and showing about the actual difference that they're making with this approach, that, that's gonna inspire more people to do the same.

[00:44:12] Gael: And really questioning the purpose of what we do. You know, I don't know if I've mentioned it already, but I had a meeting with, Pete Markiewicz to prepare our discussion. That was mindblowing 

[00:44:23] Tim: Oh cool! He's something else. He's great. 

[00:44:25] Gael: he's great. Yeah. That was, that was fascinating homeworks that I did both with him and with James Christie. And, I have to tell you a side story he told me. I don't know if you knew that, but he delivers lectures on retro- futuring where he analyzes how in the past we envisioned the future, especially in pop culture. That's crazy because what is striking is that, it is an always energy-intensive and wasteful future that we have tended to foresee, not a circular economy, but like more a "mille feuilles" of all technologies decomposing while being replaced by new ones.

You know, like a bit, like in Blade Runner, and thinking about it, it has led me to the question of how much, as responsible technologists, we should question both the purpose of what we do, and this is exactly what both the B Corp movement and the corporate digital responsibility movements are doing.

But you know, at some point there is really the question of what being purposeful actually means. That the very question of what is a desirable future! Don't you think? 

[00:45:28] Tim: Right, And that answer changes for every kind of stakeholder group. I think that's one of the things that I like about the, uh, B Corp movement is that it, it helps you more broadly about the impact of your decisions. you know, if you're, if you're based in a community and ,you make one certain kind of a decision in the name of being purposeful, are there unintended consequences to that?

Are you keeping, you know, community based stakeholders in mind? Are you taking your workers into consideration? you know, we live mostly in the B2B space in B2B sales and marketing, oftentimes the idea of paying a living wage is not a thing that's considered or talked about you know, in sales conversations at all.

You know, people really, oftentimes when they're hiring services like ours, they just want the lowest you know, that happens in products, consumer product, categories as well. And and ultimately if, you know, someone comes in and can undercut another person, but they're not paying their people living wage, You know, they can talk all the purpose talk that they want, but at the end of the day, they're not really, you know, advancing a good, you know, more sustainable, responsible future, really, I think that question really depends on who you're asking.

[00:46:35] Gael: Fair point. Okay. So, being mindful of your time, I know it's uh, still early in the US but you've got a very long day of you. So I think it's time to close the podcast and to thank you for this amazing discussion we had. However, I would love to ask you the two final questions. The first one being what makes you optimistic about our path towards a greener digital world today?

[00:47:04] Tim: the the number of people around the world that are regularly getting in touch with me and, and regularly getting excited about sustainable design and sustainable digital sustainability is very exciting really great to see. 

People from all around the world get excited about this concept. and then go to their day jobs and, and start applying these things on the day to day products that they build and stuff to me, that's very exciting. 

[00:47:28] Gael: You feel a bit less like a trailblazer now? 

[00:47:31] Tim: Yes, exactly. 

[00:47:32] Gael: and I know you already shared tons of references in books, et cetera. Do you have like one final recommendation to learn more about different topics you discussed today? 

[00:47:43] Tim: Sure. I mean, I'll give a shameless plug to our own blog because Mightybytes writes about this stuff all the time. 

If you wanna go, uh, find out about corporate digital responsibility, responsability go to corporate digital responsibility.net. Rob Price is based in the UK and he does an amazing job covering this topic from all kinds of different angles. bthechange uh, com, the letter b, the change.com is the storytelling platform for the B Corp community. So if you're really interested in finding out about how other businesses are doing this, digital or otherwise you know, go, and there's just tons and tons of stories about how people are using businesses of course for good. And that's to me really inspiring you know. We created uh, with Wholegrain Digital, we created sustainable web design.org as an open resource for digital sustainability principles. And I think that's probably a good stopping point right there. 

[00:48:30] Gael: Will put all these resources in the show notes. So thanks a lot, Tim. That was a great conversation. I was a bit intimidated at the first time, I must admit

[00:48:39] Tim: you know, you put your your interview subjects at ease and I think that's really important. 

[00:48:44] Gael: Yeah, thanks a lot for that. That's really what I'm trying to achieve. And of course to have the listeners spend a, an insightful moment, I would say 

[00:48:52] Tim: Yeah, I hope so. we talked about a, lot of good stuff here and, I hope you know, people can find a little nugget or two out of all of it. 

[00:48:58] Gael: I'm confident they will. 

So Tim, thanks a, lot for making this happen. you can always come on the show. You're always welcome. 

And once again, thanks for joining. 

[00:49:08] Tim: Appreciate it. Thank you very much for having me.


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