Finding purpose in sustainable web development

I’ve been searching for greater purpose in the work I do recently. Front end web development is enjoyable, exciting, and constantly pushing boundaries. The clients I have the pleasure to work with have high aspirations. Always challenging me to deliver websites of great quality.

However if I’m honest with myself, I’m very much a generalist in web development. I’m not a consultant with a single focus, or building website in a niche sector. Whilst this gives me the opportunity to appeal to and help businesses and individuals of all shapes and sizes – it makes it difficult to define and follow any single driving purpose in my work.

I like to advocate for a lot of things in web development. Things like semantic HTML, CSS, design tokens, accessibility, page speed, ethics and data privacy. I’ve also tried multiple content management systems, and built websites in many different sectors. Yet I’ve never been able to align myself exclusively to anyone of those ideals, tools or sectors and champion it as my “thing”. Something which I have seen many people in my industry do. Particularly those who influence my own approach to building web sites.

Rightly or wrongly I see this as giving those individuals both a niche, and a purpose in business. They are on a mission to better educate others and the industry around them on their chosen passion. It is something I have been searching for.

What gives me purpose?

When I think about the things that really bring me joy, it’s the exploring and sense of adventure out in the world. Riding my bike on a new trail, hiking with my dog, whilst my wife stops every 10 yards to take what are admittedly beautiful photos of the world around us. Many of which now adorn our house providing fond memories of our travels. Living in the countryside and enjoying the fresh air, pottering around the garden. These are all things I love.

Yes I like my work, and I’m dedicated to helping my clients. However I also work to live, I don’t live to work. I know it’s an old cliche, but it’s true. I hope it’s something that many of us aspire to.

For me the world is an amazing place to explore with my family and friends and I don’t want to loose that. Neither should anyone else be at risk of losing that. Yet the one thing threatening that for me, and everyone else on this planet is climate change.

Climate change from global warming is a problem we face now, not one for the future. In the UK we’re relatively sheltered from the worst events so far, but it’s a different story across the world. From climate induced famine in Madagascar, to extensive drought and wild fires in Australia, and the increasing frequency of devastating hurricanes in the Indian Ocean. These are just a few new realities the world is having to cope with. These sorts of events will likely only increase in frequency unless we work together to make change.

Trying to retain what we have before it is lost forever from us and future generations resonates with me deeply.

What can I do as a web developer?

We try and do our bit at home, with all the usual things, installing a smart meter, a new efficient boiler, turning the lights off etc. But there’s always the question of “how much difference does one person make?”. Like anything though it’s the sum of our efforts that matter. Truthfully I believe we all need to do our bit, we all need to be socially and environmentally responsible.

It seems apparent, now more than ever, that we cannot rely on governments alone at this point to enact change for the better, even in the midst of COP26. However if nothing else, it is hopefully creating more awareness about the issue.

I know I need to be more proactive rather than reactive. So I’m asking myself what can I do as a web developer to help contribute in changing the course of global warming. After all the sector I work in has a lot to answer for in recent years.

The internet is becoming a considerable part of the climate change problem, previously predicted to be “responsible for more carbon emissions in 2025 than any country except China, India and the United States“. Then there is the data we store. It is growing exponentially, but a large proportion isn’t actively being used, leading to excessive energy waste. It’s a similar conundrum around the amount of emails sent, particularly spam. And how about the excessive energy consumption of the blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

It’s taken a while to understand how I could find a way to contribute through my work. However I now believe that by improving my own knowledge and passing that onto others, I can encourage better practices for more sustainable web development. That’s something I want to focus on. I hope it can only lead to a more positive outcome.

A commitment to a sustainable and carbon neutral business

I want to start building a more thoughtful and positive business for the future. One that will help companies looking to make positive change for the planet and the people on it. With that in mind this is my commitment to working towards the goal of being a fully sustainable carbon neutral business.

This is only the beginning of my personal journey for sustainable web development. I have a lot to learn. However I want to document this journey publicly, being as transparent as possible, and providing resources where I can, sharing what I learn with others along the way.

I’m excited to have a renewed purpose. One that builds on my steadfast principles for successful web development, and that now understands how it can do more for the world around us.

If you have any thoughts and ideas, or helpful resources about how we can improve web development practices for a greener future I’d love to hear them.

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