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
Photo of speaker holding microphone in front of a screen showing an Ecograder report.
Speaking to California Climate Riders about Ecograder shortly after its initial release in 2013.

Ecograder “Classic”

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: 

  1. Input a URL
  2. Click submit
  3. 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: 

  1. Everything we do on the internet requires electricity.
  2. Most of that energy comes from fossil fuels.
  3. 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. 

Screen grab of Fast Company article on Ecograder
This article in Fast Company elevated Ecograder’s profile and helped raise awareness of internet sustainability issues to a mainstream audience.

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. 

Image of an Ecograder error message
With increased use and a time-constrained team, Ecograder errors became increasingly difficult to address in a timely manner.

Product Roadblocks 

All products have blockers. 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. 

However, we remained committed to bootstrapping Ecograder, which meant, without the help of external funding, 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.

Image of an Ecograder impact report showing page score, emissions estimate, and various metrics.
New Ecograder reports allow users to drill down into various metrics categories to find more actionable data.

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
Illustration of average Ecograder statistics: Page score = 75.3; Emission = 1.2g per pageview

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:

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.