internet servers environment

I wrote this for work, earthscreen[dot]com

This past week I was struck by two opposing headlines. One from ecogeek proclaiming "The Internet Will Save Billions of Tons of Carbon," and the other from New Scientist, "Computer Servers as bad for the environment as SUV's." It seems while use of the internet will prevent a dramatic amount of CO2 emissions via reduced shipping, commuting and paper needs, the servers that hold all the data on the internet belch out enormous amounts of globe warming gas.

As a staunchly green telecommuter and believer in the power of the internet, the conflict hits close to home (not that I live next to a server farm) and really puts into question how my lifestyle and worldview effect our planetary health. To help gain perspective lets take a closer look at the reports.

According to Ecogeek, the American Consumer Institute predicts that "operating on the internet" will prevent 1 Billion tons of emissions over the next ten years with the following breakdown:

  • E-Commerce will reduce emissions by 200 M tons

  • Telecommuting will prevent 250 tons of carbon emissions from reduced driving, 30 tons from reduced office construction and 300 tons of energy savings

  • Teleconferencing could prevent 200 M tons of carbon emissions (if it replaces 10% of face-to-face meetings.)

  • Shifting newspaper from print to digital could save 60 M tons of carbon

  • Digitally shipping other goods, such as music, movies and books would also contribute.

However, New Scientists posted results from Global Action Plan saying that the Information Technology Sector produces 2% of global emissions. At a total out put of 49 billion tons of CO2 a year, thats almost a billion tons a year. It far outstrips what the net will save in ten years!

Now, I don't think we should all shut down our computers and take down our websites, I certainly believe the galvanizing network effects of the internet probably do enough to promote greener lifestyles and advocacy to compensate. Also, large strides in making more efficient servers have been accomplished but are in dire need of mainstream adoption. But it is yet another example about how green is almost never black and white.

No comments: