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Environment America

Drupal’s multi-site capabilities lower costs and upkeep demands

With 60 individual sites to manage for his client Environment America and its sister organization the Environment America Research & Policy Center, Jesse Littlewood knew he had to find a new approach.

Littlewood is the Web Director at Public Interest GRFX, a group that handles web presence for many not-for-profit organizations. Each in its individual silo, the two sites for each of 29 states plus two national sites had become too costly and difficult to maintain.

Littlewood explains, “We knew we needed the ability to share content from federal to state in a push pull system, easily updatable in one installation. The killer app for Drupal was the fact that considerably more sites in the wild had correctly working multi-site installations.”

Without resources to provide servers and maintenance internally, Littlewood also researched hosting options. “Acquia’s hosting and technical support, from server level through the Drupal stack, were very important to us. We always try to get the most value for our contributors’ dollars, and Acquia’s Managed Cloud quote was significantly less expensive than other options we considered.”

“Acquia’s reasonably priced hosting and support were a big part of the reason we chose Drupal.”
— Jesse Littlewood, Team Lead for the Environment America sites

How they did it

Even with Drupal’s native multi-site capabilities, finding the right approach did not happen automatically. Littlewood and his team began with one Drupal development company and action plan before discovering the best solution in Palantir.net and the Domain Access module.

Modules, collections of PHP files, extend Drupal’s capabilities, and thousands are freely available from drupal.org. The Domain Access (DA) suite of modules, which has no counterpart in other CMSs, allows a group of affiliated sites, each with its own unique domain name, to run from one Drupal installation and a single shared database (see drupal.org/project/domain). Ken Rickard, who wrote DA, is Director of Development and Professional Services at Palantir and a long-time Drupal contributor.

Rickard remembers, “We knew that the cost of hosting for Environment America was a serious budget concern. The original battle plan to run all sites separately would grow prohibitively expensive very quickly. We simplified the proposed platform into something more achievable within their timeline and budget but gave them all the functionality they were looking for.

“We worked closely with Acquia, after we were brought in, to make sure they understood the solution we were proposing, and that it would work with Acquia’s hosting offerings.

“This solution helps Environment America protect and control their brand. It cuts down on training, support, and hosting costs, and provides consistency through all the sites. Certain layout elements can be changed to suit each state, yet each site will retain the overall look and feel of Environment America. In addition, the states can use content from other sites in the network and customize it for their specific needs.”

Littlewood adds, “This structure gives the federation the ability to be nimble and consistent at the same time. If we want to make a change that all of the groups have agreed to, it can happen instantaneously across all of the sites.

“DA is flexible enough to allow for the special legal needs of our organizations. The national group and 29 state affiliates each work through two sister organizations with different strategies for fulfilling their missions and different IRS statuses. With DA we can host both sets of sites from the same installation but with distinct designs and domains to clearly delineate the differences.”

The results

The Environment America sites have gone from expensive inefficiency to streamlined efficiency, easily manageable by a small staff. Littlewood says, “The new installation gives us shared infrastructure; we can split the costs and use member money much more effectively.” See the national sites at www.environmentamerica.org
and www.environmentamericacenter.org, or an example set of state sites at environmentmassachusetts.org and www.environmentmassachusettscenter.org.

In addition, Littlewood notes, “It’s quite easy to create a new site. We needed a jobs site and built it off the state template, a huge efficiency for us. With the old system, it took us a month to get a new site up and running. Now it takes about a week.

“Our core strength is working on the environmental issues that affect the public. Our members haven’t hired us to be experts at deploying complicated websites. They have given their money so that we can take a stand for the places we love. Our new setup allows us to spend more time educating the public or fighting the powerful interests that threaten our planet and our health.”

The solution from Acquia and Palantir frees us to focus our time, money, and energy on gaining real victories for our environment.
Jesse Littlewood
Web Director at Public Interest GRFX and Team Lead for the Environment America sites

Company Information

Environment America
Federation of environmental advocacy organizations
State-based, citizen-funded not-for- profits
2 national and 29 sets of 2 state organizations
Drupal user since 2011
Acquia client since 2011
  • 1,000,000 members, activists, and partners
  • 61 websites
  • 1 Drupal installation/database