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‘B Corp’ Mightybytes grades the greenness of your website

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Updated: March 17, 2013 6:09PM

A 15-year veteran of Chicago’s tech community, web-design and video-production house Mightybytes, Inc., is designing technology to help businesses go green — a grading process to tell companies whether they are operating a “sustainable” website.

The “sustainable website grader,” set for launch on Earth Day, April 22, will crawl a website in search of energy hogs such as the site’s hosting services; download speed (the faster the download, the fewer resources used) and design features such as streamlined shopping-cart checkouts, to avoid wasted search clicks and time. The crawler will grade each site with a score from one to 100. The higher the score, the more sustainable the website. Mightbytes’ grader will also offer tips to improve a website’s level of sustainability.

Though tech companies get points for encouraging paperless communication, their behind-the-scenes computer storehouses, called data centers, gobble up energy. Indeed, if data centers keep growing at the current rate, they will generate more carbon emissions than the airline industry within the next few years, experts say.

“The web isn’t the ‘green’ medium everyone thinks it is,” said Tim Frick, 46, owner and CEO of Mightybytes, based in the Andersonville community.

The web is powered by electricity, and it needs a lot of electricity to run.

Each pixel on a laptop, mobile device or computer monitor also generates greenhouse gases for every second it is turned on.

Watching an online movie on a “rich media” web page for a couple of hours can generate several pounds of greenhouse gases, according to experts who study computer and network efficiency.

“We imagine the Internet as a telephone,” said Pete Markiewicz, a Los Angeles-based sustainable web design consultant who earned his doctorate in molecular and cellular biology at the University of Chicago. “But the data transmitting the online movie often jumps through multiple computers that are left on all the time. You can have up to 30 computers acting as relays.”

Choices in layout, imagery and interactive features also affect efficiency.

The energy-guzzling and time-consuming implications are worrisome because web pages are growing bigger, using more external links and “big data” features that websites use to show personalized information that can be shared via social media channels. The trend started four years ago when rich media, big data and JavaScript libraries became accessible to companies aiming to amp up their web presences, Markiewicz said.

“Many people today build ‘Hummer’ websites,” he said.

Mightybytes operates in what it calls a “triple bottom line” mode by using environmentally friendly practices that respect people, the planet and prosperity.

The mantra undergirds Mightybytes’ mission as a Benefit Corporation — known as a “B Corp.” — under a new Illinois law that lets companies include social good as part of their corporate structure.

The Benefit Corporation designation, similar to an S Corp. or a C Corp., has no tax benefits, but its legal status means the social benefit stays as part of a company’s mission even after the company is sold or bought out.

Companies can define what social good means to them.

The certification comes from a Berwyn, Pa.-based non-profit called B Lab that grades companies based on their responses to a survey divided among five categories: accountability, community, environment and commitments to employees and consumers. Companies can get certified without becoming a legal Benefit Corporation, and Benefit Corporations don’t have to get certified to maintain their legal status.

Other certified B Corp. companies include GreenChoice Bank, Solberg Manufacturing Inc., Compass(x) Strategy, Better Bag, Ideaction Corps and StoryStudio Chicago.

Advocates such as Frick see greater and longer-term benefits: Changing the face of business practices.

“Companies need to be more forward-thinking about how they can offer a benefit to the world rather than just maximizing profit for shareholders,” he said. “The carbon footprint of their websites, mobile apps, data centers and other online properties is a good place to start.”

MightyBytes’ extra work is paying off in growth and recognition.

The company was one of six nationwide — and the only one from Chicago and Illinois — that B Lab invited to speak at its Google Digital Town Hall online forum in February.

Also, Mightybytes will hire at least three more people this year, including a web developer, web designer and project manager, boosting its full-time workforce to 13.

Frick helps heighten the firm’s presence with his books and public speaking. He is writing his third book, a second edition of “Return on Engagement: Content, Strategy and Design Techniques for Digital Marketing,” and working on a future title about sustainable web design. He has also written a web-process guide called “Managing Interactive Media Projects.”

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