The Story of Ecograder
Ecograder provides free web sustainability reports for millions of websites. Here’s how Mightybytes created and continues to maintain this unique digital sustainability product.
Inspired to help people better understand and take action on the internet’s massive environmental impact, Mightybytes created the original Ecograder through a series of mini-sprints in early 2013.
We have since improved the product to help organizations of all sizes across industries:
- Track and reduce emissions and energy use associated with digital products
- Improve website speed, performance, and efficiency
- Reduce costs and resources associated with digital product management
Our vision for Ecograder has always been to provide a simple product that anyone can use to better understand the environmental impact of a digital product or service. As an educational tool, Ecograder helps people quickly comprehend a complex and often misunderstood topic.
Plus, using Ecograder has always been very easy:
- Input a URL
- Click submit
- Receive a report
Ecograder’s original reports included a page score alongside specific actions you could take to improve performance and efficiency. These were based on a few simple concepts:
- Everything we do on the internet requires electricity.
- Most of that energy comes from fossil fuels.
- Improving efficiency can help decrease energy use and emissions.
The internet is, of course, a very complex ecosystem. Meaningfully addressing internet-related emissions isn’t as simple as the three steps noted above. However, our mission has always been to provide straightforward, actionable reports that anyone can understand.
Raising Digital Sustainability Awareness
As part of the Earth Day 2013 launch, Mightybytes ran the websites of Fortune 500 companies through Ecograder to see how they performed. Fast Company, Chicago Sun-Times, and several other media outlets picked up the story. This brought both attention and notoriety to Ecograder, as some companies didn’t appreciate the publicity generated by their poor-performing websites.
This quickly increased Ecograder use.
As time passed, we struggled to add new features and maintain the platform’s stability while also balancing the needs of a growing digital agency dedicated to supporting its clients.
Any software product is only as good as the effort and care you put into supporting it over time. However, we were committed to bootstrapping Ecograder, which meant progress was slow.
During this time, we also used Ecograder data to produce several annual reports on the state of internet sustainability. In creating these reports, we learned that Ecograder’s admin didn’t support pulling data efficiently.
Then, the global COVID-19 pandemic helped us find both time and inspiration to take Ecograder—and Mightybytes—to the next level.
Carbon Estimates + A New Path Forward
When COVID-19 struck, global awareness of our collective digital footprint grew on account of several new research studies, increased topical media coverage, and billions of people working from home to stay safe.
With several pending projects on hold due to the pandemic, our team spent time conducting user research, facilitating interviews, and running user tests to learn what might make Ecograder even more effective. This informed a complete product redesign.
New Ecograder features in this redesign include:
- Emissions estimates based on the calculation model we devised with Wholegrain Digital, the Green Web Foundation, and others
- A more comprehensive list of metrics to reduce emissions, increase website efficiency, and improve page performance
- High-level metrics for intersectional issues like search performance and accessibility
- A redesigned and more intuitive user interface to help people better understand reports and the associated actions they should take
- Easier product administration for better data tracking and analysis
Similarly, as part of our last B Corp certification, Mightybytes implemented several impact business models, one of which focuses on digital sustainability. This enables us to incorporate Ecograder and other digital sustainability data into client reporting and projects we execute for clients, like the sustainability audit we conducted for DePaul University.
Over a year since launching this redesign, Ecograder crawled over 30,000 URLs. Of these:
- The average Ecograder score = 75.74
- Average emissions per page view = 1.229 g
Accelerating Progress Toward a Green Web
While we divest from fossil fuels and tech monopolies, we must also invest in the social foundation that the internet provides and advocate for digital equity, meaningful connectivity, and open alternatives. We see this work happening in collaboration with movements for digital rights, an open internet, climate justice, free/open knowledge commons, public interest technology and equitable energy.— The Green Web Foundation
It is exciting that more people now pay attention to this issue than ever before:
- The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) supports a global community group to establish internet environmental guidelines.
- New books on sustainable web design are being released.
- Numerous organizations around the world—including our longtime friends at The Green Web Foundation and TechSoup Canada—now provide tools, resources, and services to help organizations transition to a just and more sustainable internet.
Ecograder was born from a need to educate people on the internet’s significant environmental impact. However, in order to effectively support this transition, the product also needs a sustainable business model.
To this end, Mightybytes is developing a Pro version so users can create task lists, integrate website analytics, and monitor emissions and improvements over time.
However, big hurdles still exist to reach goals listed in the quote above. We hope that Ecograder can help bridge the gap.
Want to learn more? Try Ecograder yourself.