The Environment and Web Literacy

Last week, Greenpeace’s Mobilization Lab and Volunteering Lab teamed up with Aspiration Tech to convene the first Open Campaigns Camp in Berlin’s betahaus.

The aim of the #OCCBerlin was to gather practitioners of technology-enabled open campaigning to learn how to organize more effective campaigns by infusing them with open practices.

occberlin-definition

occberlin-movements

I enjoyed the event tremendously, especially as a reflection on how openness adds value when organizing for social change and as a learning lab for how to do online mobilization better.

What I’m keen to share in this post is this look at the environment and the web:

The web is an essential public resource. As we strive for universal web literacy with Mozilla and allies, how can we ensure the natural public resources that power the web are also protected and advocated for?

Tech and the environment are critically interdependent

This section doesn’t need much deliberation. Nevertheless, it’s important to remind ourselves, as often as we can, that technology and the environment are deeply interconnected.

Like many who spend a lot of time thinking about tech, I tend to overlook or de-prioritize the environmental factors of the technology that I love and teach.

My conscience lives at one level of awareness (“Omg, the planet is heating up. We’re screwing ourselves and every living thing on Earth. I’m part of the problem. We must all do something, right now!”)

And then my actions live at another level (“Everyone deserves access the web and the skills to participate fully on it. Web literacy is a key to changing oppressive power dynamics. More connectivity is better. Let’s teach the web!”)

It’s a massive cognitive dissonance. But it doesn’t have to be.

The open web must be a green web

To champion the web—a global public resource accessible and open to all—we must also care for and invest in the natural public resources that power the web.

The open web needs to be a good actor for the environment. The web relies on the environment, and the humans who use and build the web need a healthy environment as well. Together, our technology and our usage of it should contribute positively to this ecosystem, not deplete it.

Therefore, to fight for the open web, we must fight for a green web.

occberlin-fist

Advocacy and web literacy

When we talk about and teach web literacy today, we’ve already embedded a strong sense of advocacy.

Currently, this advocacy is about fostering open practices, access, knowledge, and interoperability. It’s about taking a stand for issues like net neutrality. It’s about being informed about the impact of your decisions and actions online.

At the moment, we don’t mention the environment at all.

That’s why I’d like to propose we expand our understanding of advocacy to mean “championing a web that is sustainable, accessible and open to all.”

What could green web literacy look like?

There are many amazing people thinking about the open web and about the environment. Plus the environmental movement has been around longer. So there is a lot to learn and build from.

occberlin-learning

What follows is a collection of initiatives and suggestions to bring to life what green web literacy could be:

  • Layer in green to the Mozilla Manifesto. An edit or additional context, for example, in Principle 6: “The effectiveness of the Internet as a public resource depends upon interoperability (protocols, data formats, content), innovation, [sustainable environmental practices,] and decentralized participation worldwide.”
  • Include the environment in Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map. When we talk about what we mean by web literacy, let’s be sure to have sustainable environmental practices as part of the territory. I’m not sure of the best way to describe or add this to the map, but let’s discuss how we could include it.
  • Add environmental health to the Mozilla’s Shape of the Web. Every year, Mozilla publishes a report on how the web is doing. There’s a new, interactive format to this report, which makes it a more dynamic tool to teach and learn from. In addition to topics like accessibility, portability, censorship, surveillance, etc. we could add a section on the environmental aspects of the web. Is it getting greener?
  • Teach with and contribute to the Click Green Scorecard. Greenpeace made a browser extension that give a scorecard for each site you’re visiting. It shows how environmentally friendly the site’s cloud services are. We could help them write an add-on for Firefox (it’s currently just for Chrome right now). We could make a teaching activity that included exploring the web with the scorecard.
  • Participate in Green My Internet campaigns. Greenpeace and many environmental groups have been campaigning for internet infrastructure and services to be powered with greener energy. For example, the Unfriend Coal campaign got Facebook to pledge to move to renewable energy. Mozilla and others fighting for universal web literacy could join these campaigns, which are critical to the health of the web just like net neutrality, etc.


  • Collaborate with Fair Phone and other green hardware projects. Fair Phone is an amazing initiative. It aims to have the fairest phone possible, from the freedom of its software to the greenness of its components. Mozilla and others should support and contribute to projects like Fair Phone and generate more demand for green, open hardware.
  • Engage with the Open Source Circular Economy. Many groups are exploring how we can have supply chains that are designed holistically and sustainability. Openness is a critical piece of these truly circular economies, since you need to verify whether the materials and processes are in fact contributing in the manner their manufacturers, etc. claim they are. Transparency and accountability in the supply chain are part of this vision. We should get involved in these conversations and ensure our tools and processes are not only as open, but as circular as possible.
  • Create space for the environment. At a recent planning retreat, it was fantastic to have @Al2kA (London Zoo) and @ada (WWF) team up and propose sessions around the environment, animals and the web. We need to make sure these topics find space and attention in web events and programs. Can’t wait to dig in more with them at Mozfest this year.

I’m grateful to the #OCCBerlin event for helping bubble up this topic and to give some inspiration for ways we could explore it further.

What do you think? How can we be advocating for “green” when we teach the web? Should we make the environment more central to what we mean by web literacy?

occberlin-group

Photos by participants at #OCCBerlin and “Grow” by thewavingcat (CC BY-NC-SA)

3 comments

  1. Chris Adams · July 28, 2015

    Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for sharing this post – you’ve mentioned the Fairphone as an example at the device level, but there’s also guidance for people building sites and running servers that might interest you.

    If you run servers there are some immediate steps you can take, which I’ve covered in a lightning talk at DevopsDay, a conference aimed at people who run the servers that many of the online services we rely on: http://www.slideshare.net/chris.d.adams/2013-0115-ldndevops-3-ways-to-run-infra-on-cleaner-clouds

    There’s also some great advice from James Christie, on what people building webpages directly can do, which also often tends to improve a site’s UX. He’s written on a great peace on A List Apart: http://alistapart.com/article/sustainable-web-design

    He also was kind enough to put together a 5 minute video talk and run a hangout with us at an event we ran in London:

    http://www.meetup.com/Cleanweb-London/events/154961812/

    There are also some other directions you could take a campaign in like Greenpeace’s ClickingClean, that I outlined in a submission to their pitch campaign back in 2012, which seem to have some overlap with what you write about in this post: http://www.slideshare.net/chris.d.adams/competition-pitch-pdf

    I moved to Berlin, and I run a meetup focussed around the web and sustainability in Berlin – it’s fairly small, but there’s a fairly regular following now of likeminded types with seemingly similar interests to you: http://www.meetup.com/Cleanweb-Berlin/

    It would be great to be able to collate this into a single place to point people to – and I’d love to chat about it with you – I’m @mrchrisadams on twitter, and you should have my email address after I’ve posted this comment.

    • thornet · July 28, 2015

      Wow! So many great links and tips. Will reply more on Twitter, but thanks for sharing these. Keen to check out your meetup in Berlin. \(^▽^)/

  2. Pingback: Trusting the people: A manifesto for Open Campaigning