Green Computing: Beyond Energy Efficient Hardware

web developers working

Want to hire a firm to build a website for you, and want to make sure their sustainability values align with your own? You’re going to focus on companies that use ENERGY STAR and EPEAT-certified machines, right? What else can you do? Sure, it’d be great if they recycle, keep printing to a minimum, and provide a bike-friendly workplace, but in terms of the actual work, they can really only focus on the efficiency and recyclability of their hardware… right?

If you’d asked me this a couple of weeks ago, I’d have said “Yes… that’s pretty much what a web design firm can do.” Portland, Oregon’s Opensourcery does all the things I’ve listed above, but has also figured out further forms of waste-creation in the process of website creation: namely, in the coding, testing, and launching of sites. If you’re not a coder (and I’m not), it’s a little hard to wrap your head around creating greater efficiencies here: I mean, isn’t writing code just writing code?

Not according to Opensourcery CEO Brian Jamison, who took the time to explain the ways he and his team have rethought web development in more sustainable terms.

  • Code Fragility: Ever had a program, or a website, get hinky on you… especially early on? That likely results from one of two things: a poorly-designed platform (upon which even the best code may perform poorly), or badly-written code. Opensourcery sticks to a platform they know works well – Drupal – and then writes code on top of it designed to serve the customer’s needs for the long term. Their approach doesn’t involve pushing a project out as quickly as possible, and letting the client deal with the headaches, but making sure that, at the most basic levels, the site is designed to do what it’s supposed to do. Radical idea, huh?
  • Behavioral testing designed to meet genuine human needs: Behavioral testing sounds like something that would happen in a roomful of people, but it’s actually a process of testing software with software. The problem with most of this testing is that it’s not designed with a typical end user in mind; developers tend to create for people like themselves rather than the less technically sophisticated. Opensourcery’s behavioral testing reduces waste (of time and effort) by using plain English, and focusing on goals and standards agreed to by the company and client prior to beginning development (or, at least, testing). Because the customer is involved from the beginning, both clients and developers can see that the finished product meets expectations…
  • Quicker, more efficient deployment: Taking a site live can take several hours… and that’s several hours of human resources, as well as energy. Drush is a tool the company uses that greatly decreases the time needed to launch a site by looking at what Drupal requires, and automating as much of the replicable work as possible. Launch times go from hours to seconds in some cases.

Again, as someone who’s not a developer, I got fascinated quickly by the ways Opensourcery has worked to keep the development process efficient, sustainable, and user-focused. Their practices don’t stop here – they do many of the typical “green office” practices, and even keep their developers’ hours down to a genuine forty-hour week to maintain the efficiency of their people.

Know of other development firms taking similar steps towards a more sustainable web design and development process? Do share…

Image credit: Hossam el-Hamalawy Ψ­Ψ³Ψ§Ω… Ψ§Ω„Ψ­Ω…Ω„Ψ§ΩˆΩŠ via photopin cc

  1. Joe

    A program on NPR yesterday a professor from U of Minnesota said that twitter alone uses for all the twitter messages sent in a year 2500 megawatts of energy- enough for 850,000 house for a year- if I heard right server farms within a few years will be using 20% of all the energy in the US

    1. Tim Frick

      Check out http://tweetfarts.com/

      It measures the carbon footprint of Twitter hashtags. It’s not specific to energy use but rather carbon output. From the footer of their site:
      “The energy it takes to send a tweet generates .02 grams of CO2. With 500 million tweets sent daily, a total of 10 metric tons of CO2 are emitted per day.”

  2. Pete Markiewicz

    Great post on the “sustainable web”. I’ve been thinking about the issues that you bring up here, especially “code fragility”. Considering how JavaScript code is exploding (often > 1 meg of code on modern sites) this is a real sustainability issue. More important, you locate the place where sustainability will happen in design and development, not in “hoping” that data centers will reduce their carbon footprint. Feel free to check out and comment on my blog at Sustainable Virtual Design. There is also a nascent W3 group for sustainable web theory, and MightyBytes (http://www.mightybytes.com) has a great blog and carbon footprint crawler.

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