S4E2 'Building a Sustainable World Web', with Michael Andersen 🌐

S4E2audio
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[00:00:00] James Gill: Welcome to the EcoSend podcast. Stories from marketers, founders, and change makers.

[00:00:16]

[00:00:17] James Gill: Hi there, welcome to another episode of the EcoSend podcast. I'm your host, James, and I am thrilled to bring you this show, usually once a week where I'm talking to wonderful people, inspiring us, educating us. Entertaining us into building more sustainable and purpose driven businesses. A big topic we've had on the show and it's been recurring and if anything getting more and more prominent is the topic of digital sustainability.

[00:00:46] And I am very excited today to be joined by Really, one of the, the experts on the topic, Michael Anderson, and Michael has is responsible for the Sustainable World Wide Web, Sustainable WWW, you may be familiar with reading that before and Michael is a senior front end developer. He is the founder of the Sustainable World Wide Web Foundation and is a book author.

[00:01:13] He's the author of the book, Sustainable Web Design in 20 Lessons. So I'm very excited to meet Michael today. Michael, welcome to the show. How are you doing? Thank

[00:01:24] Michael Andersen: you. I'm doing really good. And you?

[00:01:27] James Gill: Great. Great. It's very nice of you to ask me, Michael. Thank you. Yeah, I'm doing all right. Thank you. We're recording on a Friday.

[00:01:33] It's it's, it's warm inside at least and I'm, I'm, yeah, I'm very, very happy to be chatting with you and excited to dig in with someone who's clearly very passionate about this topic so Michael, I, I, I guess before we get too much further, who are you and, and what are you, what are you up to at the moment?

[00:01:51] We know you're a developer and you've, you've written a book. It'd be great to hear a little bit of background on, on you. Yeah.

[00:01:57] Michael Andersen: Yeah. So I can, I can start by talking a little bit about my, my journey into sustainable web design. It's, it's quite a long journey actually, because it started already when I was a kid, , right?

[00:02:09] Oh, wow. Yeah. I, I, I grew up in a, in a small town in Denmark, and I was, I was of that generation, you know, where we, where we used to play outside in the forest, you know? Yeah. Building boards and, and playing. So, so I got like. The side of you know, of playing in the nature and, and I was also like the, the one of the first generations to, to play inside.

[00:02:31] So I got a mix between these two. So my, my love for nature is very big. I spent quite a lot of time in it. Also, now that I'm, now that, that I'm a grown up so yeah, I when, when I was, when I was about 10 years old I had a hobby I figured out that I really liked to, to create websites.

[00:02:52] So my dad got me this software from Microsoft. I don't know if you ever tried it, it's called

[00:02:57] James Gill: front page. I, I am aware of Front Page, although you were, did you say you were 10 when you started getting into this?

[00:03:05] Michael Andersen: That's, I guess I was around 10 years old. Yeah, I always doubled with, with a lot of stuff in, in technology, but yeah, around around the age of 10 I remember,

[00:03:14] James Gill: and my, I think I do remember front page because I, I guess this was back in the days when software came in a box, right?

[00:03:20] With a, with a, a CD inside. And I remember thinking, if you wanna make a website, you have to. If you have a PC, like that's the way to make a website, if I recall. Yeah,

[00:03:31] Michael Andersen: exactly. And it was also back in the day where all the websites was made using HTML tables. Tables, yeah. So so yeah, my dad got me this software and I immediately started, you know, creating these like small projects for myself.

[00:03:46] Yeah. So the first one. As far as I remember was was a new website for the, the association my dad was in. He was diving as a hobby. And I, and I was building this website using tables, you know, and, and all of the images like backgrounds, shadows and such, I was, I was making them in, in paint and, and.

[00:04:08] Very, very early versions of Adobe Photoshop. Ha ha

[00:04:12] James Gill: ha ha! Heh. Wow. This is This is how it used to be done. I guess so many I'm gonna sound like an old grumpy man now, but kids these days, they don't know how easy they've got it with their Squarespace and their Wix and their you know, all of their blogging platforms and Figma and all of these design tools.

[00:04:30] Back then it was a lot of, a lot of hard work to make everything look good, wasn't it?

[00:04:35] Michael Andersen: It, it definitely was but, but at least, you know, back then we didn't have to, to think about like tablet designs and mobile designs as well. Okay. There was only one way. That's how it looked.

[00:04:45] James Gill: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:04:46] Michael Andersen: But yeah, around, around the age of 10, I was, I was doing these small hobby projects a lot.

[00:04:52] And when, when I got a little bit older, I Kind of moved away from technology again and into music and spend like many years, you know, teaching myself to play and I was even playing gigs around Denmark and in the weekends and such. And, and I, I thought that that was going to to, to be my future in music.

[00:05:13] But but then. I kind of switched back again after my, my wife pushed me she, she, she told me that I'm always so, so, you know, good with technology and such, and she, she knew that I used to do all of these small things so she made me switch into, into development. And I have never been looking back ever since.

[00:05:35] James Gill: I see. I wouldn't want to comment too much on one's career path, but I guess there's definitely a lot of business in being able to be a developer and build things on the internet and the path as a musician. maybe is not, not such a high chance of of getting paid for your work, perhaps. I don't know.

[00:05:56] Michael Andersen: I don't think so, but I kind of see, you know, the, the two things go hand in hand because for, for both being a musician and being good in technology, you, you, you have to be a creative person.

[00:06:09] Yeah. Yeah. I am really creative because when, once I, once I get an idea, I have to live it out.

[00:06:16] James Gill: I see. Yeah. Yeah. That's, that's great. And, and what a. fulfilling thing to be able to do. I, I know my, my own background and loving, I, I'm not, I wouldn't call myself a programmer by any means, but I, I, there's something I love about the web where if you do have an idea, you can turn it into something that people all around the world can use.

[00:06:38] And if you have the skills to do that, it's an incredibly fulfilling thing, I think.

[00:06:44] Michael Andersen: Yeah, it's definitely one of those things that I find interesting about technology and the web, especially that if you are a web developer, you can speak a language that most other people can speak and you are able to solve problems that they have using technology.

[00:07:04] You, you, you're going to bend all of these small things and turn it into something that's going to make life easier for so many other people. Yeah. Yeah. And it's, it's kind of you know, it's kind of also what made me think one day, like once I really got good at web development, I was sitting down and I was thinking about like, how can I combine my love just to go back to the topic around how I get into sustainability.

[00:07:27] Yeah. How can I combine my love for the nature and technology? And then, then I came up with this like sustainable web design thing after reading Tom Greenwood's book. Immediately, I knew what I was going to spend my life on. It had to be like the combination of doing something good for the environment and working with with technology at the same time.

[00:07:48] Oh, wow.

[00:07:49] James Gill: That's, that's incredible. So actually, yeah. So for those who might be listening to this. podcast for the first time. Tom Greenwood is someone we had on one of the episodes in, I think it was series, series three, just gone. And, and Tom is a co founder, I think of, or if not founder of, of whole grain digital creative digital, digital agency, but that whole focus is on digital sustainability.

[00:08:17] And so Tom's book was, had a profound impact on you that it sounds Michael. Yeah, definitely.

[00:08:24] Michael Andersen: After reading the book, I realized that all types of technology is polluting in the world. Each email we're sending, you know, has a weight somewhere that's going to be led into, into the world. Like we, we might not see it immediately when we send an email.

[00:08:41] And that's why, at least that's what I think. Like, that's why most people think that technology is just, you know, this, like, is. Same place that we can, we can go to and just pollute, like, all we want or use it as much as we want without any consequences. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. His, his book definitely made me think about that there is a problem and we need a solution for it.

[00:09:07] But it didn't give me the answers that I needed to, to be able to help. So I was, I was thinking that, you know, that there might be some other way to how, how would I phrase that? I'm sorry, I lost the thread there for a moment.

[00:09:22] James Gill: No, don't worry. Yeah, you, well, you were saying that Tom's book maybe didn't give you the answers of how to, how to address some of the, the challenges.

[00:09:30] But. But it sounds like it, it put you on a path to maybe wanting to, to solve, solve those things and figure it out yourself.

[00:09:39] Michael Andersen: Yeah, exactly. It, it gave me the idea to create something that would make it easier for other people to, to, to get into sustainable web design. Because Most of the books today, like the great all of them but they, they don't give so many answers to how we can do concrete things to, to reduce pollution, make websites more sustainable.

[00:10:07] And that, that was, that is something that, that I want to make easier for people so that they don't have to go through the same thing I did. It feels a little bit like reinventing the wheel. Yeah.

[00:10:20] James Gill: Yeah, yeah, if you can make it easier for people and, and more obvious I guess, I guess there's, there's a lot of advice out there and an abundance of advice of how to build websites, regardless of digital sustainability, there's a lot of advice on how to build a table, how to not use tables in web design to get back to your earlier point.

[00:10:41] And, but like the amount of the amount of clear advice on building Building a website today that is more climate conscious, I think, is, is perhaps still, still lacking and, and maybe there's, there's more, more need than ever for, for advice on that and perhaps bringing it more into the, the default thinking of how to build a website, in my opinion.

[00:11:07] Yeah, I,

[00:11:08] Michael Andersen: I, I definitely agree on that. I think today web websites, like when, when companies are building websites, it's seen more as a product instead of a process. So they, they most likely think more of it as a product that they need to create as fast as possible and ship out. Well, what I think would be more correct would.

[00:11:29] Would be to, to look at it the same way as we used to so we, we would look at it as a process instead, right? Building something and going into details with with how to optimize it, for example optimize the content, make it run as smooth as possible. Yeah, so I

[00:11:46] James Gill: guess that maybe segues into, to your, your book and, and some of the advice you give in there and not to steal too much of the advice from your book, Michael, but, but any, any of the sort of the.

[00:12:00] Talking points in that book that, that feel most relevant today or, or any, anything in there that you, you feel that people should be doing as a, an obvious step or anything in there that you feel is not being done even though it should be a really obvious thing to do? Do you, do you, anything there that, that sort of you see on a daily basis?

[00:12:23] Michael Andersen: Yeah. There, there are definitely things that I see on a, on a, on a daily basis. First I just want to address that the, the 20 topics in the book is, is about stuff that, you know, it's already out there. So it's not a secret. It's not a secret formula. I got to I literally just took my experience from from the years I've been working with web development and I translated that into something that would reduce pollution which also means that, for example, one of the topics in the book is, is about image optimization.

[00:12:55] James Gill: Right. Yeah. Yeah. Images

[00:12:57] Michael Andersen: and videos are definitely something that is used a lot on the internet today. And sadly, you know, I often see it that those images are not optimized. Yeah. So that's definitely something that people would be able to focus more on.

[00:13:14] James Gill: It's, it's actually amazing you, you're saying that because we were literally just this morning having this conversation on the team.

[00:13:21] We were putting out a blog post and it had a, a few photos in it from a recent day we did as a team. And we were realizing that the, the photos were so much closer to the original, what came off the, the camera rather than what's optimized for. Reading on a, often a mobile phone screen and the, the difference of what, what comes out of a phone camera versus what you'd need to see the picture is, is, is huge.

[00:13:50] And that's just in terms of the pixels, let alone like other smart things that there's, I know there's lots of algorithms and compression techniques you can use to further reduce file size, but it's yeah, the knowledge of this. feels like it's still very much in the knowledge of developers and programmers who have experience with web technologies, but actually, I guess today as a lot of people making content on the web that don't have that same background.

[00:14:19] And I think that's an interesting One where ideally more of this knowledge that someone like yourself has, Michael, can make its way, not just within developing, developer circles, but also into the hands of content people, marketing people and, and wider than that, I, I hope. But maybe I'm exerting my own opinion there a bit too much, but

[00:14:41] Michael Andersen: no, it's, it's, it's really interesting you're saying, because the internet today is not only, you know, for, for developers and designers, like you, you don't have to hire a web developer or a designer to, to get a website today, or to even, you know, express your opinion online through blogs and social media and all this which also means that.

[00:15:01] There are so many people out there who don't understand the consequences of all these things. Yeah, like when, when you on social media or on a blog, for example, just upload, you know, your vacation photos, you don't think about that. You need to compress them or resize them to fit the platform or, you know, convert them into, into the, the, the best image formats as possible.

[00:15:23] You just upload them. Yeah.

[00:15:26] James Gill: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I, it's, it's an interesting one as well. I guess there's an opportunity there for anyone who's responsible for making web services. And I, I definitely think that's a role we feel we need to take very seriously. Ecosend is, we know a lot of people using our platform have no technical knowledge at all.

[00:15:50] They're, they're marketing people. They're people that write the newsletter, but they're people that are often responsible for putting images. Sending an image out to maybe hundreds of thousands of people. And so, like, making sure that we are building a platform that can have sensible defaults and, and often helps people not even need to know too much, but to do the right thing almost without knowing.

[00:16:14] But it's like, we also want to educate as well. And, and so I I, I think there's a difficult balance for, for people in that position of building web services where maybe taking away the need to do some of that but also educating is, is another big piece and I think it's why a book like yours is so powerful because by you influencing web developers, those web developers can influence their own life but they can influence the impact of, and, and impact hundreds of thousands, millions, hundreds of millions of of consumer consumers and their behaviors which is, I would imagine Michael for you is incredibly rewarding.

[00:16:57] Michael Andersen: Yeah, it is. It is definitely rewarding. Like Every time that I see my, my book get pur purchased by, by someone, you know, I imagine what, what kind of difference that it might make for them and for yeah, for all of the websites that, that, that they have their hands on. Yeah.

[00:17:14] James Gill: Yeah. Absolutely. So are there any other any other lessons in your book that you, you'd be keen to share on, on the, on the

[00:17:22] Michael Andersen: podcast?

[00:17:25] James Gill: Oh, have you got the pic there? You got it, you got it there to reference. Yeah, I actually

[00:17:29] Michael Andersen: just got the the hardcover version home. Oh, wow. It's definitely hard to It's hard to pick. Pick something.

[00:17:40] James Gill: What did you, what did you start with? What was number one?

[00:17:44] Michael Andersen: Do you mean lessons

[00:17:45] James Gill: or? Yeah, out of all the, the 20 lessons.

[00:17:49] Michael Andersen: The, the number one thing after like lesson one and two is, is about sustainable web design. Like, well, what is it actually the concept of lesson two is talking about like, well, what a carbon footprint is and how you can measure your website's carbon footprint.

[00:18:05] And number three starts to, to explain what a green web hosting is. Okay. Yeah. So that might also be an interesting topic to

[00:18:16] James Gill: dive into. Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely. I, I know that a lot, well almost anyone with a web presence has got to think about who they choose to host their site or their service on.

[00:18:28] So, when you say, what, yeah, what do you mean, first of all, when you say green web hosting and How does one go about finding, finding a web host that is green?

[00:18:38] Michael Andersen: I would say that finding a green web host can be as simple as going on Google and type in green web hosting or sustainable web hosting. You will definitely see a lot of companies, you know, appear.

[00:18:51] All of them might not be completely green because they, like they, they, like the electricity that you use might be running on the, the normal grid. If the electricity on the grid is not green, then they would have to do something else. Like, you know. To, to make it

[00:19:09] James Gill: green. Yeah, like offsetting and things like that.

[00:19:12] Michael Andersen: But what what I see as green web hosting is, is a web hosting company that run on green renewable energy. So, so either they, they run it. With solar panels, if they don't have green electricity on the grid, or they, they are located in a country where the electricity is green. Like I live in Sweden, for example, our our footprint, you know, is, is very small when it comes to the electricity.

[00:19:40] I saw on a website a few days ago that in general, the the electricity in Sweden produce between 16 and 25 grams of carbon dioxide. per kilowatt hour compared to other countries where it easily can exceed like 100 or even up to eight or 900 grams per kilowatt hour. Wow.

[00:20:01] James Gill: Wow. That's quite, quite a huge contrast, isn't it?

[00:20:06] I feel like we're always looking at Sweden as the ones who are leading the way on this stuff. That's incredible. So, so finding a host in Sweden is probably a good idea. Yeah, that's, that is incredible. We, we also, just for what it's worth at Ecosem, we also think about our own usage of of, of, of energy with within the service services we build.

[00:20:33] And thinking about adopting sort of serverless technologies as well, so that you're You're kind of only using even if you're using renewable energy trying to use as little energy as possible and and I I think there's a huge benefit there as well, which is The energy often translates into the the cost as well so like it's one of these things which is beneficial for both the you know, there's the Environmental consequences of using that energy, but there's also the cost benefits of of not using that energy and so conversation we have a lot on the podcast where Doing the right thing here.

[00:21:09] Actually, it's often not just good for the planet. It's, it's a beneficial thing for, for really all parties concerned, which I think is great. I was gonna, I was gonna say, I know, Michael, you wanted to talk about one of the more difficult parts of this, which is as a, as a web developer, you often, Encounter clients and, and businesses who maybe don't care so much as you and, and they just want a website.

[00:21:37] How do you, how do you deal with, with clients like that? How do you deal with those kinds of conversations? Yeah. And

[00:21:45] Michael Andersen: so, so just to start off that conversation, the company I'm working at full time right now they have clients that are not, you know, focusing so much on sustainability. So, so usually we, we don't have that talk with them.

[00:22:01] But. While I'm developing websites and designing, I always try to, to put in as many things as I can to make it as sustainable as possible. The, the company I work for, we, like all the websites that we create is using their own CMS system called Dynamics. So we, we can do literally anything we want with it.

[00:22:24] But just to, to give an example, for example, of some of the things that I do, like, if, if a website wants like a card list displaying all of the, the blog posts or news articles. Then then I would usually go in and and develop a card list. Allow them to add the image to, to the list if they want, but then I would not show the image and in full size.

[00:22:51] So if one card has a width of, let's say 350 pixels, then I would generally crop or like resize the image to, to fit that card compress it and all of these things like behind the scenes. So that. They, they don't have to deal with all of these things. Right,

[00:23:11] James Gill: right, right. So, so working with a client where you care more than, maybe they, whether or not they care, you're gonna care and you're gonna make sure it's implemented in a way that they don't even need to know but it's doing the right thing behind the scenes anyway.

[00:23:28] Yeah,

[00:23:28] Michael Andersen: exactly. Like, of course, it's limited what you can do because you, you cannot just say, okay, I'm going to spend 30 or 40 hours on, on this feature here that they have not even approved on, but you can always do all of these small things, like compress the images or resize them convert the funds, for example, and make sure that they don't use a CTF or OTF instead use wolf to to, to, for example,

[00:23:53] James Gill: that's good.

[00:23:53] Do you, have you ever Have you ever had a difficult conversation with a client then? Have you ever had a conversation with a client where they, the, the, there's not been that alignment? Have you ever had to say no to a client? To with regards to a request?

[00:24:09] Michael Andersen: Not really. No. I'm, I'm, I'm usually not sitting in, in the meetings myself.

[00:24:14] We have someone who take care of that, but, but I get all of the details afterward and figure out how we're gonna, you know, solve this problem that, that they, they have.

[00:24:23] James Gill: You're the fixer. You, you make sure it's all sorted at the end of the day. Yeah. I like it. I, that's great to hear Michael. So. So I guess one of the, the, the final topic really is just around any thoughts on the future.

[00:24:38] And I know you there, there was a point you were wondering about on, on the future of, of sustainable web design. It'd be good to hear your, your, hearing your own words, what you were, what you were thinking there.

[00:24:50] Michael Andersen: Yeah, it's, it's kind of something that I was thinking, like, everyone could think about, like, once in a while.

[00:24:57] Yeah. If all websites on the internet were sustainable, would we then create more websites? Yeah.

[00:25:06] James Gill: And is that, is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? I don't know. Like it's a, it's definitely one to ponder, isn't it? Yeah,

[00:25:15] Michael Andersen: you can definitely look at it, you know, and like both ways good and bad. If, if all websites were, were sustainable, would they then even have an imprint on on the climate?

[00:25:27] But no, it's, it's definitely a question I've been thinking a lot about. And personally I, I think that we wouldn't really see much more websites than what we have now. It's, it's hard to, to say, but, but my, but when, when I'm speculating about it, that's, that's the answer that I come to because right now we, like the whole world is talking so much about like the, the climate crisis and, and all of these things, but no one is really talking about How much technology and data pollutes, like despite all of these evidence and despite how much it pollutes, it's, it's still like this thing that we think that we can just, you know, we can have all these images and we can just post all of these interesting things on social media and then nothing is going to happen.

[00:26:13] Like it has no consequences. Yeah. So I think like for, for the future, it could be the same, like there will still be a lot of people who don't really know, which means that we will probably not see many more websites then. you know, what we're building right now. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:26:31] James Gill: Although a goal, a goal I think of, of making every website on the web more, more sustainable and more climate conscious seems like A good goal to have regardless, I, I, I think it's a, a very interesting one to ponder, I, I quite like, we don't often have a, a topic like that on the show where it's like, people could take away and think about a bit more, and I, I would actually encourage anyone listening or watching like maybe, maybe leave us a comment about your own thoughts on that, a, Whether, if we, if, if all websites were made sustainable, would that mean we, we ultimately end up with, with more sites and and any change to, to, to things there?

[00:27:09] That would be, that's, that is a very interesting one. Thank you, Michael, for sharing. Yeah, I, I I know you also, well, what we always like to do on the show is wrap up with some advice, and I know, I know you, you, you had some, some advice here, which I, I think would be really wonderful to share, Michael, if you, if you don't mind.

[00:27:28] Michael Andersen: I, my, my advice actually comes from, from Tom Greenwood. Cause I remember that he once wrote that we don't have to be 100 percent correct. And we just need to take action. And that is, is also the advice that I used personally to overcome my fear of, you know, creating content and just put myself out there to people.

[00:27:53] That's why I wrote the book, because the, the knowledge that I have could be useful to others. It is relevant now. It might not be relevant in two years because our industry is, you know, evolving so fast. Yeah, yeah. But. It, it doesn't matter because what I can do now, I should do, like, I might not be 100 percent correct about everything, but the things that I'm correct about can help others.

[00:28:19] Absolutely.

[00:28:20] James Gill: I think that is such a, such a wonderful thought to be ending on because it touches on and connects quite a few things we've talked about on. On this podcast over the time we've been running it, and one of the earlier episodes we had was about the topic of, of greenwashing, but also a topic that I hadn't come across until then, which is green hushing, which was people not wanting to talk about anything climate related or sustainability related at all for fear of saying the wrong thing.

[00:28:53] And I think collectively, it's something I think a lot of people really struggle with. You know, not wanting to give advice, not wanting to share what they're doing. Because there's a fear that it's not the right thing and I think we'd be in a really bad place if everyone adopted that mentality because we need more people talking about this, we need more of a conversation, we need more discussion, we need more action and I think your advice there and by extension Tom's advice, I think it just resonates so, so much with me and I think the way I think about it.

[00:29:28] Business as well, and in general, like, you rarely, if you're waiting until you're 100 percent confident and right about something, you've, you've already waited far, far too long, and the world is only getting faster, not slower, and yeah, you, you, you, taking action often is how you get to being correct.

[00:29:48] It's how you learn, it's how you, you get, get stronger and clearer about what's right and wrong. I, I, I love that advice, Michael, thank you. I I think there's been a wonderful episode, Michael, we're already already at our half hour mark. So I, I really want to make sure that anyone who's listened or watched today, they can go learn more about what you're up to, Michael, in particular, learn from your, your book.

[00:30:14] So Your, I assume Sustainable World Wide Web, Sustainable www. org is where people should go to learn more, is that correct?

[00:30:24] Michael Andersen: Yeah, that is where people

[00:30:26] James Gill: should go. Brilliant, brilliant. So we'll link that in the show notes. And if anyone wants to connect with you on LinkedIn as well, right Michael, so we'll link that in the notes too.

[00:30:37] Thank you very much, Michael. Thank you for being a wonderful guest. It's been a pleasure. Thank you for having me. Thank you. And thank you everybody for tuning in and watching or listening today. If you've enjoyed the show, if you want to take any of Michael's advice here. Please let us know about it.

[00:30:55] We always love hearing how these episodes impact you. So, yeah, let us know and, and please do tell others about, about the episode and about Michael's wonderful work. We'd, we'd love to spread this message far and wide. So thank you for, for tuning in and we'll catch you next time.

Creators and Guests

Michael Andersen
Guest
Michael Andersen
Michael is the founder of Sustainable WWW and author of the book 'Sustainable Web Design In 20 Lessons'
S4E2 'Building a Sustainable World Web', with Michael Andersen 🌐
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