Web standards and the environment

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

A cal­en­dar­i­al mishap left me think­ing that Blog Action Day was on the 18th Octo­ber when in fact it is, of course, today. It’s 23.00 here as I write this, so I have one hour to write a post and offi­cial­ly get away with it.

So the title of the post is “web stan­dards and the envi­ron­ment”, which at first seems pret­ty incon­gru­ous. To be hon­est, at sec­ond and third it still seems pret­ty incon­gru­ous. But I want to make the case that con­cern­ing your­self with the envi­ron­ment is like con­cern­ing your­self with web standards.

The old catch­phrase “think glob­al, act local” can be per­fect­ly applied to both. We want to see a web that’s so well cod­ed that every­one in every coun­try can get the same expe­ri­ence from it, no mat­ter their brows­er or plat­form. To do that we code our own web­sites accord­ing to the lat­est stan­dards and we take care with test­ing to ensure there are no glar­ing discrepancies.

And that is — let’s be hon­est — a bit of a has­sle. It was much eas­i­er when we could throw in some tables for lay­out, with inline styles or pre­sen­ta­tion­al markup, look at it only in one brows­er then put a lit­tle but­ton on there say­ing “Best viewed in Brows­er X at 800x600 resolution”.

Now we have to wres­tle with divs and floats and posi­tion­ing, with four major ren­der­ing engines (and the whole mobile plat­form to come) and a vari­ety of screen res­o­lu­tions. We make sure our markup is seman­tic and we sep­a­rate our style from it, then add extra lay­ers for func­tion­al­i­ty. It’s a lot more work.

But we do it because we know it’s the right thing to do; it makes it bet­ter for our vis­i­tors, and bet­ter for us in the future.

Con­cern for the envi­ron­ment is like that too. It was much eas­i­er when we threw all our plas­tics and glass in the rub­bish, when we ran all our elec­tri­cal prod­ucts as long as we liked, when we drove the 10-minute jour­ney to the shops.

And it’s has­sle to sep­a­rate all our recy­cling into sep­a­rate bags and box­es, to switch off lights and not leave stere­os and TVs on stand­by, to walk or bike the short jour­neys. It’s a lot more work.

But we should do it because we know it’s the right thing to do; it makes life bet­ter for our us, and bet­ter for our chil­dren in the future.

And soon, like stan­dards-based code, the has­sle goes away and it becomes sec­ond nature. I no more con­sid­er throw­ing plas­tic bot­tles in the bin than I do using inline styles in my code. All my old light bulbs have been replaced with ener­gy-effi­cient bulbs, as my 1px spacer.gifs have been replaced by padding and margin.

And with the small stuff sec­ond-nature, the big changes require less effort and cost. I no longer need to recode my web­site if I want it to dis­play cor­rect­ly in a mobile brows­er; I can just change the stylesheet. Like­wise, if I switch to slight­ly more expen­sive green­er ener­gy now, I won’t be sub­ject to the inevitable increas­es in fos­sil fuel charges that are coming.

There are lots of ways you can make local changes now which help pre­pare for the glob­al changes ahead; I’ve list­ed only some of them here, as I’m afraid of push­ing the anal­o­gy too far (if I haven’t already). If you want to find out more, just Google “save the envi­ron­ment” for a num­ber of recommendations. 

So, just about done with eight min­utes to spare; please excuse me if some of the argu­ments aren’t quite as well devel­oped as they could be.

You may not believe that the effects of glob­al warm­ing will be as cat­a­stoph­ic as some pre­dict, just as you may not be con­vinced that the use of web stan­dards is quite as impor­tant as some experts make out. But in both cas­es the solu­tions can yield a num­ber of mate­r­i­al ben­e­fits to you and every­one else in the short and long term, and in both you know it’s the right thing to do.

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