A Green Focus

As I reflected upon in my yearly review, I made one substantial change in my behaviour, and a few smaller ones, that are hopefully reducing my carbon footprint. No longer relying on a car is something I can take a great deal of pride in, although I should confess that I still find driving desirable, especially since my discovery of the Volvo C30.

Other small changes — switching off lights when they are not being used, reusing plastic containers when getting a take away, using a bag for life, turning off my computer overnight — might not make a substantial difference, but hopefully set an example to others.

As such, I find myself criticising other people for making decisions that I don’t believe to be in the interests of sustainability. For example, the perceived need to own televisions of ever increasing size, which seems less about improving the viewing experience, more a wish to conform with this unfounded measure of success.

A friend who brought their iPhone at the same time as me, recently upgraded “because they were told they could”. This perpetual upgrade cycle, driven by phone companies wishing to get customers onto new tariffs or contracts also frustrates me. I certainly have no plans to upgrade my device for the foreseeable future.

Undermined

Yet on many occasions, friends have questioned such criticism, especially given the amount of flying I’ve been doing over the last few years, which has not only countered other changes I’ve made but also undermined the example I’ve been trying to set.

Having said that, I will staunchly defend the practice of travel. I think leaving the comfort zone of your surroundings, experiencing other cultures and seeing your own from a different perspective is to be encouraged. I believe my world view has fundamentally changed since the short time I lived in the US, and more recent travels around Europe.

Prior to my move to California in 2006, I had flown only once, on a long haul return flight to Australia in 2003. Yet moving to America brought with it the obvious need to return home to see friends and family as often as possible, and flying quickly became second nature.

However, thanks to Dopplr’s ability to track the carbon generated from all these trips I’ve taken, you can see that since returning from America in 2007, there has been a year-on-year reduction of my footprint:

My carbon footprint since 2003 as measured by Dopplr
Year Kg CO2
2003 4660
2004 1021
2005 3122
2006 5718
2007 9432
2008 7645
2009 5767
2010 2840

Still, my friends are right; flying so often undermines my ability to advocate a greener lifestyle. It also dawned on me just how unpleasant the entire experience is anyway. Endless queuing, administration and frustration, just to travel in pretty appalling conditions — I can’t think of any other situation in which waking up two strangers and crawling across a row of seats, just to visit the toilet would be tolerated, but it is here.

Changes

Contrast this with travel by train. Much of the queuing and waiting is gone, and you can travel from the centre of one city to another in a matter of hours. For just a little extra you can upgrade to first class, enjoy free wireless internet, sip champagne and eat freshly cooked meals. Whatever class you travel, the amazing scenery comes for free.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that I’ve opted for this form of travel lately, and I hope to undertake another rail bound journey around Europe later this year.

However, I feel it’s important to make clear my statement of intent, and also honour the 10:10 pledge I’ve made to reduce my carbon footprint by 10% in 2010. So I’ve decided that this year I will not fly one single mile. Seeing as I returned from Australia on January 7th, this promise will hold true until that same date next year.

I’m not saying this because I had no plans to fly either. I was really hoping to catch up with friends in San Francisco, and this years An Event Apart series looks especially enticing. Yet these can wait. There is of course the possibility I will be asked to fly by my employer (Clearleft has many clients based overseas) yet I hope this is something I can avoid if at all possible.

a.green:focus

Hopefully, by improving my own behaviour and backing it up with firm action, I can once again advocate a green agenda. Indeed, after announcing my plans to build a green coalition of web developers and designers last April, this month I formally launched the campaign. It’s called a.green:focus.

In my inaugural post on the a.green:focus blog, I explained why our industry is best placed to challenge peoples behaviour and help them become more environmentally conscious:

Ours is an industry occupied by some of the most talented, creative and empathetic people on the planet. We craft interfaces that are easy to use, design experiences that push the boundaries of a medium and build websites that are accessible to all. We’ve developed social networks that allow us to communicate with each other in new and exciting ways. We are in the business of creating the future.

To help launch the campaign, and with the help of my friends at the Multipack, I’ve organised a hack day, where we hope to build a website or application that will encourage people within our industry to think about how they can reduce their carbon footprint, quite relevant given the upcoming SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. You can find more details about this event on the Upcoming page, but needless to say it’s this Saturday!

Hopefully this is the first in a series of events and initiatives in support of the campaign, and so far the response from friends and peers has been incredibly encouraging. In the mean time, may I suggest you add the a.green:focus blog to your preferred RSS reader.

Remarks

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Lee Dave McCourt

Lee

It’s nice to see someone elegantly articulate their considered thoughts on such an important issue.

Some food for thought. Whilst I strongly agree that everyone should be more considerate and not needlessly waste energy, I would urge caution in the tone of your message. I think what’s most important is that people do become more efficient and ultimately use less energy BUT aren’t made to feel that they can’t still enjoy themselves whilst frivolously using energy on the odd occasion. After all, what’s the point in living if you give up all fun activity? I think you’re New Zealand adventure was worth the environmental impact, but some die hard environmentalists would surely disagree. Would such derision of an otherwise thoughtful individual be helpful?

Education NOT Dictation.

Example: I own an energy inefficient TV (Plasma). I don’t leave it on standby, I don’t leave it on when I’m not watching it, and I did consider the environmental impact of my purchase before hand. However, I enjoy watching TV (and movies) and believe that LCD is an inferior technology. Hence, I feel I’ve reached an acceptable balance, and until such time as this TV breaks I’ll not buy another. Is this wrong or selfish?

A new topic for you to explore. How much energy does the internet currently consume? I imagine many servers sit dormant a great deal of the time. Would internet users put up with a short wait for a web page to load if it meant that many servers could be kept in a deep sleep state until absolutely needed? If web page designers and coders were to tidy code, use less JavaScript and Flash, would fewer resources (energy) be needed to view web pages? How much energy could be saved? Google for one, have invested in solar energy at their headquarters, how about large server farms in the UK, tidal powered internet?

P.S. iPhone analogy. How about rather than all web designers upgrading to the latest MacBook, accept what you have and make the most possible out of it until it no longer works?

Dave McCourt

Well done on the changes you are making in your life. It is hard not to sound preachy when talking about this kind of thing and everyone has their own ideas about what they are prepared to do. Personally I live my life in a fairly ethical way, not as much as some but a lot more than others. I’m always amazed at basics that I take for granted (recycling, turning lights off, etc) are just too much for some people to stretch to. I think a lot of it comes down to people just don’t like being told what to do, or to realising that they are doing things wrong.

Small steps are the way to get the majority to do things as otherwise they wouldn’t bother and when they’re factored up it does make a difference. Some things though have to be taken with a pinch of salt: putting my Mac or Sky plus to sleep doesn’t even register on either of my two energy monitors. I think this kind of thing puts people into a false sense of doing something when most probably they aren’t. You’re much better off putting on a jumper and turning the heating down or having fewer lights and gadgets on. But that is too didatic for some.

If you are serious about you carbon footprint and you aren’t a veggie/vegan you should really consider at least a veggie diet. The meat industry uses a massive amount of energy, water and food that could be better utilised than making a Big Mac! Have a read of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_vegetarianism I’ve been veggie for 15 years and it really isn’t hard.

And you should subscribe to http://www.ethicalconsumer.org which can really shed light on a lot issues (how carbon offsetting is a load of nonsense for example).

I hope a.green:focus goes well.