Do We Need A Greener Internet?
You have a cell phone, computer, maybe a tablet, perhaps a smartwatch, likely a security system, and if you’re all about the retro, you have an mp3 player. These devices contain plastics and silicone and metal and an array of other chemical compounds, but we’ve discussed this before; this is not that article. Instead, I want to talk about the widely acknowledged, but little examined, element that connects not only the devices but also the people, places, and ideas that are humanity: the internet. But what does it mean to make a greener internet?
The Potential For Impact
I think we take it for granted because it’s invisible, intangible, but the internet is a power-whore, consuming more energy than Russia. This incredible consumption means that we need to consider the energy usage every time we log on and get connected. Because when we talk about the internet and its power demands, we are speaking of: power to charge and run devices, power to manufacture devices, power to physically network devices and servers, and power to run data centers (aka the cloud). When it comes to the device you buy and the internet provider you choose, you can directly impact your carbon output. However, when it comes to the various platforms you use and the websites you visit, your ability to influence resides in indirect action.
A Natural Advantage
Luckily, the internet comes with its own power cushion. By accessing the internet, many gadgets, as well as people and businesses, are turning black to green. Whether you are a poor kid in Africa using the internet to build a wind turbine for your village, a fridge in suburbia helping to monitor food consumption and reduce wastage, or a thermostat in a large office building controlling the temperature better than any human and cutting down on heating and cooling costs when no one’s around, the internet, by its very existence, is helping people the world over cut the power cord.
The Solution, Today
There are many things you can do, starting with your own home, to make a positive impact while also waving your dollar boldly in proclamation of sustainable support. The imperative first step is to reduce your consumption. Turn it down or turn it off. Consider energy ratings, and buy the best quality available when replacing irreparable appliances. If you haven’t switched your home to renewable energy sources, start looking into your options now. Solar has never been more attainable, especially since you can update roofing with Tesla’s tile technique. Personal wind turbines are also commercially available, offsetting higher initial costs if you live in a very windy area. Be sure to also search for rebates, subsidies, and grants that are available from federal and state government sources. If you’re unable to switch your direct power source, then make sure you check whether your local energy provider offers green energy options.
For those pesky gases you can’t quite quench, buying carbon offsets is one way to support the idea of clean energy that’s not yet available. At a basic level, planting a tree or donating to a company that will do it for you is an easy way to counteract some of the damage. Another way to help is to invest in REC’s, or Renewable Energy Credits. REC’s are surrounded in sustainable suspicion but are not as daunting as they may at first seem. There are two primary issues: the overproduction of clean energy has led to depreciated prices, which in turn removes the incentives to invest in new projects; the other significant problem is that “clean” energy includes sources you may not personally support, such as geothermal, biomass, hydrogen, and hydro. The easiest way to find a reliable provider is to look to cost – low-cost REC’s certainly don’t work, but higher priced certificates might. Be prepared to pay more, and begin your research with companies that charge what they’re worth.
The Solution, Forever
Using the newest Greenpeace report, Clicking Clean: Who Is Winning The Race To Build A Green Internet?, I was able to find real data about the actual services we use and the companies that run them. There is both good news and bad…
The good news is that there are several providers that have scored A’s and B’s in the report – these grades were earned for changes implemented as well as changes that are still to come, transparency, and diversification of approaches. Some of the companies you interact with every day had very high overall grades:
The bad news is that many of the brands you rely on, especially for streaming, received D’s and F’s. Here are the biggest offenders to bring offense:
- Samsung SDS (a Samsung subsidiary)
- Pandora, Spotify, Soundcloud
- Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter
- HBO, Netflix, Hulu
But the best part of this list is that it gives you a great place to start. Making changes in your own life is critical, but encouraging the largest companies, the ones that run massive cloud-based data centers, to do better is paramount to creating lasting change. If part of the problem with REC’s, for example, is that there is too much clean power available, then obviously driving up demand will help to create and fund new green projects. Massive banks of servers utilizing vast amounts of energy to store information, cool themselves, or run on-site security, represent a significant drain on the grid. If all of these companies commit to renewable sources of energy (often through PPA’s, or Power Purchasing Agreements, rather than REC’s), the market will have no choice but to catch up to meet demand. And oil and coal will be left in the dust.
A Small Act Can Make A Big Difference
I’m going to make it as easy as I can…Here are two letters, one is for shaming, the other for praising – send shame to companies that should be doing better, and deliver praise to those companies whose demonstrated efforts should receive encouragement and thanks from its customers. Rather than emailing your letter to a general customer service employee, look for C-level employee email addresses (obviously, if there’s a Chief Sustainability Officer, or CSO, that would be best), or published addresses for the PR department, or just use good old-fashioned snail mail to deliver a letter directly to the head office. Just copy, paste, and don’t forget to change the bold words (like Mad Libs for Mother Earth) before you hit send!
After reading Greenpeace’s report, Clicking Clean, I’ve discovered that you’re not doing enough to support the switch to green, renewable energy sources. I am currently a customer but am considering disengaging from your company if I do not hear that you have made progress by the release of the 2018 report, early next year. (Alternatively: I am not a customer, but I will now actively ensure that I, and my friends and family, never interact with your brand.)
Whether my support matters to you or not, please consider that we now know we have to do better, that we can do better, and that by making irresponsible choices, you are forcing those choices on the rest of us, regardless of our own opinions. Please choose to act with consideration for the whole human race, and living creatures in general, by converting to and supporting the development of sustainable power sources such as wind and solar, and by avoiding untenable sources such as nuclear, natural gas/fracking, and additional hydroelectric.
Dear Company Name,
Thank you so much for all of the steps you have taken to make this world a better place. I truly appreciate your examination of energy consumption in particular and would like you to continue this line of work. As a customer, I will continue to recommend your Product/Service to friends and family, making sure they are aware of the sustainable measures you have pledged to achieve. (Alternatively: I am not currently a customer, but after learning of the sustainable measures you have committed to, I will endeavor to use your product/service whenever I can.)
Companies like company name, are leading the way, not just through these voluntary actions that can have such large, measurable effects, but also by demonstrating that there can be profit in consideration of the triple bottom line. Your work towards renewable, clean energy is vital for the health and survival of humans, as well as all living creatures.
The Next Steps To Our Greener Internet
Don’t be scared to go the next step – the Greenpeace report is easy to read, has a ton of graphs that help illustrate the issues, and even includes a table with company-specific questions to ask. Expand on the letters I’ve provided, write your own from scratch, or use social media to contact brands and high-level employees directly. Also, look into investing in renewable energy incentives like PPA’s, REC’s, and clean energy-related stocks. Or just run for local government and get it done yourself!