When Lean Meets Green – The Sustainable Product Development Manifesto (Part 1)

Working with Lean Startup Methods

Today, companies and individual everywhere are looking to go green and reduce their carbon footprint. But did you know that websites have an impact on the environment as well???

At Lean Impact, we were fortunate enough to have Julian Rockwood share the story of how Mightybytes created Ecograder – a free tool that grades your websites on sustainability and helps you find ways to reduce consumption, eliminate waste and use less energy.

Not only were we curious to learn more about Ecograder but when we heard that Julian and the team at Mightybytes used Lean Startup methodologies to develop Ecograder, we had to know more!

Here is Julian’s fascinating story… and there was so much great content on how Mightybytes applied lean principles to building EcoGrader that we divided Julian’s story in 2 parts.

I present to you Part 1 of this Lean Startup tale:

Our team at Mightybytes just completed an 11 week development cycle building EcoGrader.  Our goal was to build a product that helps website owners better understand the impact their website has on the environment and provide a general roadmap for making improvements and decreasing site greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Ecograder Launches On Lean Startup Model

Not only did we want to build a product that can help evolve web sustainability but we wanted to develop it with a process that is green in and of itself. From this project The Sustainable Product Development Process was born.

The goal of The Sustainable Product Development Process is to ensure minimal environmental impact of your product concepting, design, and development, as well as eliminate waste from building products people don’t want.

In other words, it’s green meets lean!

We’re proud of what we accomplished with EcoGrader and the process we used and wanted to share our story and the The Sustainable Product Development Process with you.

Here are the main principles to consider when building web products sustainably and lean:

How To Build Sustainable and Lean Web Products


The Opportunity Assessment

Why are you considering this endeavor? Is it even worth testing the idea, and wasting resources? Why right now? If you’re having issues with this, check out Marty Cagan’s opportunity assessment template, or the Lean Startup Canvas for business planning.

Impact Analysis

Take full account of the effects of building this product or feature. Ensure that the planned life of the product, and its impact is a fair trade-off for the value the product delivers to customers.


Learning can and should be validated scientifically, by running experiments and testing each element of your vision before using resources to build something unwanted. Start by “getting outside the building” and talking to people (ie customer interviews) and asking them if they are actually interested in this idea, and if they would pay for it. Look for people already solving the problem you’re working on with homebrew solutions.


Pragmatic Design

Your product design should be ethical, purposeful, and pragmatic. Consider the Bauhaus minimal approach to design by stripping the design of any extraneous, unnecessary elements and reducing the design to the minimum amount of elements necessary to convey the idea. This method, called “Economy of Form”, provides that the “economy” refers to a limited “budget” of elements usable to complete a design.

In other words avoid bells, whistles, images, carousels, share buttons, Flash, and maps as much as possible. If there is no other way to serve a specific need though, then use them.

Minimum Viable Products

It cannot be stressed enough that you should minimize resource input as much as possible during the initial pre-validation, or validation period. In green engineering, they call this “meeting needs and minimizing the excess”. You can use methodologies such customer interviews, and the MoSCoW Method of prioritization to ensure when it is time to build, that you’re only delivering the greatest and most immediate business benefits. Designing for unnecessary capacity or capability should be considered a design flaw.

Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation

Taken from the Agile Manifesto, this basically means that while vision is mandatory, a 15 page product requirements document is not. Don’t waste pixel power or print paper on something no one will read. Instead, consider a functional prototype to get your vision out.  Avoid entropy and complexity within your requirements. If you can’t put it on an index card, it’s probably too complex of a task for development.

Efficient Environments While Working

Minimize your vampire power. There are surge protectors you can get that will actually turn off power flow to things plugged into them, such as computers, lights, etc. Even though something is turned off it still can draw power if plugged into the wall. Also turn off unnecessary lights, machines, devices, when not in use.

Responding to Change (Over Following a Plan)

Sustainable product design means welcoming changing requirements, even late in development. Harnessing change can create opportunities to improve the product, or reduce its impact at any stage in development.


Use Green Ingredients

Roughly 50 million servers contribute to an internet carbon footprint equivalent to 5% of total global greenhouse emissions. Since servers require power 24 hours a day, it’s important to consider a green hosting provider that uses 100% renewable energy. This is key to reducing the long-term server-side impact caused by use of your product.  Our goal is reward the progress and momentum of society, and the easiest way to make an impact is with server side energy consumption.

Catch & Store Energy

We used “caching’ to store information and reduce energy with EcoGrader. This may sound silly or simple, but think about the ways you can use data already captured to reduce energy consumption in your product. Use Content Delivery Networks (CDN’s) to reduce energy to deliver content. A CDN is the virtual equivalent to ‘buying local’.

Produce No Waste

At every design stage, an opportunity will present itself to prevent waste (rather than create it) and deal with consequences later. Make sure your team is prepared to face this decision and has the power to make important decisions during design and development.

Share Resources and Recycle What’s Already Built

Code and pattern libraries, boilerplates, bootstraps, API’s, and open source code can help you cut back on “reinventing the wheel”. Less hours coding features and writing custom CSS will result in less energy and consumption used during the build of your product.


Reduce Share Greed

Adding four social sharing widgets to a site can add as much as 64 additional HTTP requests to a web page, ballooning the size. If readers are too lazy to copy and paste the URL, and write a few words about your content, then it is not because you lack magical ‘share’ buttons.

Output-Pulled Versus Input-Pushed

Products, processes, and systems should be “output pulled” rather than “input pushed” through the use of energy and materials. Don’t make your product run when it doesn’t need to. Let the user have control of that.

Design it Mobile First

1 billion people across the world are browsing the internet using smart phones, so it makes good business sense to optimize your websites to be viewed on those devices. It also reduces server side energy by loading less large rich media, images, and helps the user find what they’re looking for more quickly.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Sustainable Product Development Manifesto, where we will dive further into how Julian and his team used lean methodologies for the development of Ecograder. During part 2, Julian will also give us a sneak peak into Ecograder’s 11-week Lean Startup Development Cycle.

Photo Credit: zoovroo

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