Digital Sustainability Policy

In the fairly new field of sustainability strategists are asking the question “can we carry on like this?” and in particular focus on activities that cause damage, whether that damage is to a person, a community a brand or a business.

To begin with sustainability strategy understandably focused on environmental issues where resources are finite. More recently it has included social issues where short-term views have had long-term effects on vulnerable people’s lives. To date there has been little written about sustainability in the digital ecosystem i.e the internet.

Social responsibility isn’t a department in an organisation. It is the responsibility of every part of the business

The internet might seem like an unlikely focus for a sustainability strategy given that it has been sold on the promise of limitlessness. Unlimited space, unlimited information, unlimited entertainment, unlimited opportunity.

Like the American Gold Rush before it, businesses and individuals rushed off to claim their territory and all its hidden riches. But, like the underground tunnels or abandoned mines of the Midwest today, the internet also has a legacy of abandoned infrastructure.

Campaign microsites, experimental projects, enthusiastically claimed URLs and twitter handles have all become digital landfill. And while the internet’s resources seemed unlimited no-one seemed to care. But things are changing.

eFfluent: Old or out of date content that is still flowing into people’s content streams

The internet is now so overflowing with eFfluent that it’s starting to have an impact on the current digital landscape.  In an effort to get rid of it here are 5 ways that short-termism is affecting the internet and how a digital sustainability policy can help.

Out of date content

Out of date content will have been in Google’s index longer and is likely to have been linked to more times than your new content. This includes content that 3rd parties have written including bloggers and review sites, making it hard for your new content to compete for search results.

Policy #1: Content maintenance. We will keep a track of all content that we produce (or ask others to produce) and regular check to make sure it is up to date. We will also commit to updating content where possible instead of creating new content.

Abandoned domains

The recent release of new domain suffixes (like .XXX) was preceded by a shortage of useful domains. However many relevant domains have been abandoned when an experimental project or proposed campaign lost funding. Rather than track down the owner, agencies create more new URLs, leaving a slew of out-of-date sign posts that users have to navigate.

Policy #2: Streamline Wayfinding. Where there are already sign posts towards content we will endeavour to update those. We will not use two sign posts when one will do e.g. only buying .com, and .net when necessary.

Social Media Graveyards

Every time a new channel or platform comes out it advises users to ‘hurry’ to secure their personalised URL. Brands, not realising this is an engagement tactic, rush to sign up. What this means is that there are thousands of Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook pages that have followers but not content. Some brands might leave an ever-optimistic ‘keep checking for new content’ message but either way that first opportunity impression is squandered.

Policy #3: If we join a new platform we will be transparent about how and when we will use it.

News Jacking

News jacking is when content is published to ‘ride on the coat tails’ of a bigger story. For example Mamas & Papas might write a blog post about christening clothing in response to a new royal baby. The hope is that a small amount of traffic from people genuinely interested in the royal birth might be diverted to their site and then decide to buy some baby clothes.

This is rarely a successful tactic and normally results in the internet being flooded with tenuously connected content around special events like this article on the Mirror: 10 Royal baby inspired supermarket deals including 44p baby wipes and half price champagne

Policy #4: We will only write about a national event if it is relevant (not just related) to our business.


This is when a brand or news service doesn’t really have a lot to say but will do its best to make content out of it. I’m not sure there is a better example than this, from the Daily Mail who have written 800 words on “Lauren Goodger narrowly avoids walking into a puddle during day out in Essex

Policy #5: We will only write content that is useful

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *