ArticleOctober 23, 2023 · 3 min read time
It is quite common to see companies announce their goal of reaching carbon neutrality by a certain deadline. However, the truth behind these statements often reveals a preference for offsetting emissions rather than genuinely reducing their day-to-day impact. To amplify the impact of the announcement, companies frequently tie their values to sustainability objectives.
Another thing that usually connects strongly to company values is customer experience. The services and products need to be truly functional and effortless to use. Response times should be less than a second for most actions to ensure a smooth experience.
So, creating a meaningful customer experience demands significant resources. For digital services to run on an expected level, it means faster data transfer and more oomph under the hood for data centers to process things faster. But all of this actually contradicts the goal of going carbon neutral – another expectation customers now have for their service providers.
Lowering carbon footprint through smart design
Designers are in a great position to make things better. If the company's goal is to reduce emissions from offering its service, and the customers using that service also aim to decrease their carbon footprint, isn't the path forward pretty clear?
In the spirit of light and dark mode, created to optimise visual comfort and energy efficiency, we could design a third option, ECO mode. Instead of simply affecting the visuals, it could increase the service's response times or reduce the amount of animations, for example. So, enabling that setting would reduce the power needed for backend and frontend to run the service.
Of course, the user would have to be in charge of their experience. But by making this choice, they could influence their carbon footprint associated with the service, even if it means some actions might take longer. They can opt for a compromise based on their values, such as waiting, for example, five seconds instead of just one for the latest data to sync.
Another way for designers to make an impact is to involve all relevant stakeholders in sustainability-related discussions right from the outset of service development projects. As emphasised by my colleague Satu Heikuksela, tangible and measurable actions stem from meaningful conversations. That's the key to genuinely reducing a company's carbon footprint.
Sustainability over speed: designing mindful services
One could argue that such changes might not significantly lower carbon emissions to warrant their implementation. While, technically, this may be true, as the power difference between syncing data every second versus every five seconds is likely negligible, it is a step in the right direction.
I argue that the concept and idea are worth it. Rather than focusing on maximising efficiency, companies could foster an ideological shift of sustainability at the core of product and service design. Even the smallest streams can help in raising awareness and nurturing that mindset.
Additionally, an ECO mode could make the user more committed to using certain services, allowing them to make a difference, however small. And from a holistic point of view, it could contribute to solving a broader issue: encouraging people to adopt a slower pace.
There's much debate about people becoming frustrated or impatient when a service requires a five-second wait. For today's fast-paced world, focusing on waiting a bit seems to be too much to ask. But little by little, designers could help to pave the way for a more sustainable pace in people’s everyday lives. Reducing carbon footprint while improving focus is a win-win in my books.
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