Green Design.

Guidelines for a low-tech, energy efficient, and environmentally sustainable internet
Green Design is a passion project born from solar-powered research. It is a set of guidelines for designing low-impact digital products that hopes to one day serve as a source of truth for environmentally sustainable product design & development.
Here’s a brief roadmap of what’s going on behind-the-scenes:
This project is still ongoing and could use some help. Collaborators, contributors, and donors of all kinds are welcome to reach out and chat!

Where it All Began

In September 2019 I was introduced to Solar Powered Media Project, a low-power website & sustainable educational resource under the NYU Green Grant Initiative. The research for Solar Powered Media set out to better understand the environmental impacts of modern internet products and how to mitigate them.
I began to realize how costly it was to keep the internet turned “on”.
It was clear from the start that there was a disconnect between the low-cost reputation of the internet and its deep environmental footprint. Very few people realize that if the internet were a country it would rank as the fifth largest for energy consumption — more than Japan, Germany, or Canada. Luckily, Solar Powered Media itself was beginning to disassemble the low-cost facade of the internet, and find alternatives by backing the website with solar-powered, open source hardware and software.

Over the course of a few months, I investigated how many builders on the internet actually understood the mythos of the low-cost internet. Designers, developers, and product managers alike were familiar with the process of building a product but were not certain about how to be deliberate and efficient in that process. Internet users were even more in the dark: without a baseline understanding of the wastefulness of the internet products they used, there was no clear place to start in cutting down on those costs.

Defining Goals

Sustainability is a very new and under-discussed concept for the average tech industry employee. Still, there is documentation on internet companies shifting towards greener practices, and ever-growing usable products working to offset energy costs.
Industry workers need a practical source of truth for designing and building a low impact internet.
The ultimate problem I was discovering was that low-impact product choices are clearly achievable, but the work put in by product builders is lagging behind academia and more experimental technology. The large majority of work in climate tech is led by a small set of experts and existing resources are outdated, underdeveloped, or unattractive. And while that may be changing soon, there is a lot to be done in setting the foundation.
After getting my hands dirty with server-focused solar powered research, I got to work. I started by defining holistic goals for the solution I was about to create and framing them as simple objectives.

I want to educate people.

At the bare minimum, I wanted to help more designers and technologists contextualize the costliness of the internet and consider their carbon footprint when building products.

I want to provide a useful tool.

A big part of standardizing low-impact practices is creating usable, interactive tools to help spur action. Two resources that inspired me to incorporate interactivity are the Website Carbon Calculator and Ecograder.

I want to create a source of truth.

Whether it be simple, implementable practices or overarching design principles, I wanted something that could be referred to time and time again. Some guides I found compelling include the Kickstarter Environmental Resources Center, the Sustainable Web Manifesto, and these climate change content guidelines.

A Design Language for Low Impact

As of March 2020, the site you see is a proof of concept. This means testing out some initial features, organization, and content. Some of the important parts of this first lockup include a set of qualities for low-impact design, virtual LCAs, and interactive demos. As I gather data, more information will be available both here and on the live website. Stay tuned for updates and new features!
Qualities to Live By
Some good copy can go a long way in communicating design decisions. These were qualities I wanted designers to consider and refer back to throughout their design process and hopefully be able to base their own autonomous practices off of.


Green Design must, at its core, aspire to be as efficient as possible from a consumption standpoint. Staying ‘‘lean’’ is an existential counter to the recent ‘‘fattening’’ of web content.


Sustainable practices are not familiar to the average internet user, so the burden is on the creators to present the right information in the appropriate contexts to be impactful.


High-tech unequivocally remains in the design spotlight for now, and Green Design wants to be for designers of today, finding ways to balance sustainability with the status quo.


Achieving zero-waste means closing traditionally linear processes into regenerative loops. This means adopting practices that allow products to give back to wherever they take from, repeatedly.

Virtual LCAs
Just as the environmental impact of physical products can be calculated through Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs), digital products can be evaluated in a step-by-step process. I’ve only just begun to map the traditional LCA to a virtual one, and identifying key impact points to address.
Demos, Data, and Interactivity
I also incorporated some demos to illustrate some simple low-tech tactics to follow. Below is a visualization of the possible impact of dithering images. This method of reducing image size is currently being tested to calculate kW/h saved.
1000px x 1500px with a 2.41kb filesize
77.67% smaller than original
84.55% smaller than original

The Future

Green Design is currently a resource geared towards designers. It’s a start, but there is so much more coming for other internet builders and users. Below are some challenges that a greener future will face that Green Design may one day tackle.
Builders need principles
Product designers and developers unequivocally find value in having an overarching, abstract set of concepts and principles to keep in mind when designing for a low-impact internet. This set of principles should help identify the biggest areas of opportunity for reducing costs and stay thorough but not restrictive.
Users need more context
A low impact internet needs to first break down the myth that the internet is low-cost. Staying informative and transparent will come around and create value in greener internet practices for both builders and users.
Users need it to be simple
By nature of the beast, an uninformed user's behavior skews towards low intent when it comes to sustainable internet choices. In order to maximize impact, this leaves designers and developers two choices: make energy efficiency low-effort, or make the default itself efficient.