Author:
Martina Nemčić, Martina Đođo

Photos:
Maja Rašić, Creek & Pine

Themes:
Digital Sustainability, Green Web, Innovating for the Planet

Martina Đođo and Martina Nemčić gave an interview to Mamager.hr, a portal dedicated to women entrepreneurs. They talked about digital sustainability and the challenges of running a first digital agency in Croatia that designs low-carbon websites and apps, and operates as ethically as possible.

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Mamager: Can you tell us more about your business?

Martina Đođo: We are a digital agency that does everything other digital agencies do – we plan, design, develop, and maintain websites, mobile and web applications, and similar digital products. What sets us apart is that we do all this with a low-carbon footprint!

Martina Nemčić: Creek and Pine is a digital agency specializing in the design and development of websites and mobile applications. However, we approach this differently because the result of our work is sustainable software. We started the agency when we realized we wanted to see a greater purpose in everything we do and spend most of our day on. Working in agencies and corporations, we realized the role and responsibility of companies in driving changes in the world and firmly believe that business can be used for good – for the environment, the community, and ourselves.

Mamager: What exactly do you offer to clients?

Martina Nemčić: We offer design and development of websites, web applications, and mobile applications, as well as data science, because data is the foundation on which we build digital strategies for clients. Additionally, with a strong focus on corporate sustainability, we help clients recognize their digital impact on the environment and develop strategies to reduce that impact, report their excellent results, comply with regulations, improve resilience, and enhance the company’s reputation. Commitment to sustainability and environmental and community focus are especially important to young people who are more loyal to such companies and brands. When we combine this commitment to sustainability with an exceptional user experience, we believe we have a winning combination for everyone – the company’s, people’s, and the planet’s wellbeing.

Mamager: What makes you unique?

Martina Đođo: Creek & Pine is the first agency in this part of Europe to address the issue of digital sustainability. We are experts in understanding how and how much the operation and maintenance of everything on the internet pollutes and how to reduce that negative impact. We incorporate this knowledge into the digital products we create and educate other companies and their employees about it. Our goal is to raise awareness of this issue and show that it is possible to have excellent digital business operations that pollute less, and are intuitive and user friendly.

Martina Nemčić: I think we are unique because we are a digital agency that truly puts purpose before profit. We want to do what we do best – design and develop beautiful digital products while paying great attention to ensuring those products are good for our clients and positively impact the environment. We would like our company to be a driver of change, so we have developed benefits for employees that we have not seen elsewhere in Croatia. This includes, for example, free days for activism.

We create websites and applications using the same process as other agencies, but we have our Creek & Pine twist, resulting in products that are maximally optimized for a good user experience and have a smaller carbon footprint. For clients, this means they will get exactly what they wanted and needed, but at the same time, a website that respects their audience, is fast, efficient, good for their business, and has a better environmental impact. The websites we create are designed to be energy-efficient, requiring less energy to operate, which means less carbon dioxide produced.

creek and pine team

Mamager: How did you come up with the idea?

Martina Đođo: The idea came naturally. Martina and I both try to have as many sustainable habits as possible in our lives – we don’t eat meat, we move around the city by bike or on foot, we are conscientious about buying clothes and food, we recycle, and so on. At the same time, we have both been in the tech industry for years, which is not closely associated with sustainability. When we scratched the surface of this topic at our previous company and realized how much the internet actually pollutes and how little is said about it, we decided to specialize and get active in this field, then turned it into a business venture.

Martina Nemčić: Digital sustainability is not a new topic globally. For several years now, there has been intense discussion about the huge impact the IT sector and the internet have on energy consumption and CO2 emissions. The internet is already the fourth largest energy consumer in the world. Martina Đođo and I worked together at another digital agency and first introduced this topic there. We wanted to make colleagues and management aware of the impact of our tech community on the environment and point out various ways we can reduce that impact while still making better products for our clients.

Today, this approach is an integral part of our process and strategy because sustainability cannot be approached peripherally and inconsistently; the entire business must be subordinated to it. This is not just our opinion, but also a requirement of the European Union. Only this way can we make a real change. After recently completing a university program in Corporate Sustainability, I am even more convinced of this.

Mamager: Can you explain how to be sustainable when it comes to the internet and websites?

Martina Nemčić: We can make the internet more sustainable if we in the tech industry change the way we design and build software. During design and development, we should make decisions that result in fast, efficient, and intuitive websites and applications. Next, we need to use green servers instead of those powered by fossil fuels, and be aware to use services from companies that actively care about their impact on the environment, society, and employees, and buy devices from companies that introduce better production processes and actively include environmental and people care in their business.

As end users, it would be good to regularly clean our accumulated digital junk, i.e., data we don’t need and don’t use in any way. For example, old newsletters, spam, emails we don’t need, various old data stored in the cloud, and so on. Maybe also stream a little less.

However, as in life in general, sustainable does not mean having no footprint at all. In today’s times, when everything is digitized, that is impossible to achieve. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of what we can reduce while still living normal lives, finding a balance between responsibility to the environment and our development as individuals, as well as business development. That’s why we as professionals in the tech industry have an important role and responsibility to minimize energy consumption and pollution from the start and ensure that the products we build are as efficient as possible. We can’t expect thousands or millions of website and application visitors to think about their footprint when they open, for example, a news or weather portal – nor is that the point.

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Mamager: How much does digital waste impact the environment?

Martina Đođo: Digital waste is one aspect of digital pollution and refers to the endless amount of online data we store in our clouds, emails, and elsewhere, which we don’t need and don’t use. I often compare digital waste to plastic straws. Almost everyone online stores various documents, images, newsletters, various data used once or twice, then left and forgotten. We are not yet aware that all these things take up memory, i.e., space on some physical server in a server farm. Server farms use huge amounts of energy to maintain and cool these large facilities. The energy they use has to come from somewhere – and most often it comes from non-renewable sources, i.e., fossil fuels.

Digital sustainability fights to move as many servers as possible to renewable energy sources. Until that transition happens, we can also do something – clean up our trash. If we regularly cleaned our unnecessary online data, much less of that “waste” would take up space and electricity. In addition to individuals, it is also important to emphasize that large companies collecting a lot of data bear significant responsibility. Research shows that 90% of collected data is never analyzed, which means resources are unnecessarily spent on collecting and storing that data. If companies collected data more sustainably, only those they intend to analyze, things would already be much better. We recently conducted a study on the digital sustainability of the largest Croatian companies, and the results show that there is much room for improvement.

Mamager: Are we somewhat unaware as people that the internet is also a major environmental polluter?

Martina Đođo: Yes, I would say we are quite unaware. For instance, there is a lot of talking about how polluting the airline industry is, yet the IT industry pollutes more, and almost no one talks about it! Many people perceive “online” as something not physical, not consuming electricity, but rather something in the air, in the cloud. The truth is, however, that everything that happens online leaves physical traces.

Martina Nemčić: This might be partly due to language – we are all “online,” we store data in the “cloud.” Therefore, it’s hard for us to imagine how physical the internet actually is and what its concrete, tangible consequences are. Everything we do online, whether surfing, gaming, emailing, making TikToks, or streaming Netflix, requires energy. Every piece of information we store online, every spam email we receive and never delete takes up physical space on a server in some data center and consumes energy to maintain. That energy still mostly comes from non-renewable sources, and is releasing significant amounts of CO2 during its production.

Mamager: How satisfied are you with the sustainability efforts in this part of Europe, particularly in Croatia? Are we heading in the right direction, or do we sometimes stray off course?

Martina Đođo: Although we produce top-notch digital products in Croatia and the region, we’ve noticed that this part of Europe lags behind Western Europe in terms of understanding sustainable internet practices. However, we’re fortunate to be part of the EU, which guides our companies and local communities toward more sustainable practices. It’s challenging to prioritize sustainability in a country that’s still economically developing, but we believe that sustainable business operations and habits are better in the long run, especially as young people are more likely to trust and buy from companies committed to sustainability. We would like to see Croatia moving more decisively toward sustainability and becoming a leader in this field. Regarding digital sustainability, since we brought this issue to the forefront, we are definitely leaders in this part of Europe.

Read the full article here (only Croatian language available).

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