Offsetting your Cyberself

As “green” goes mainstream opportunities to offset one’s carbon footprint are becoming increasingly prevalent. Individuals can estimate their carbon footprint from household energy consumption and travel through many of the calculators available online. What I’d love to understand is the overall carbon footprint created by the thousands of servers around the world that host ever-increasing (rarely purged) heaps of useless online content (ahem, like my own).

According to an article in the Scoop Independent News, “a moderate size server has about the same annual carbon footprint as a gas-guzzling SUV getting 15 miles-to-the-gallon.” I was also shocked to find the following statement in Julian Bleecker’s Techkwondo blog: “Every year, every Avatar in Second Life produces CO2 emissions equivalent to a typical, honking, bloated, arrogant SUV driving 1,293 miles, based on the assumption that this kind of SUV generates 1 lbs of CO2 per mile.” The analysis is worth the read.

Growing numbers of large corporations are establishing carbon offsetting programs for good showmanship if not out of sincere social responsibility. But as the internet starts to grow its own long tail with the proliferation of Web 2.0 / 3.0 start-ups, I wonder how much of the overall IT-generated footprint is actually offset. I’m all for community-generated content and the democratization of media, but it’s important for users to understand that “free” web space comes at an ecological cost.

How many social profiles would average 20-somethings maintain if they had to offset their cyberspace consumption? And would it be worthwhile to blog “about nothing” if I had to offset my way in? If anyone out there has a model for measuring this type of thing, I’d love to see it.


2 Responses to “Offsetting your Cyberself”

  1. 1 Ray Hill June 12, 2007 at 12:26 am

    The second life example is a little disturbing, and the overall thesis is dead on.

    But the server example is a bit misleading. Unless it’s just one person hogging up an entire server (usually it’s hundreds or thousands), it would really be more like a 5-story commuter bus than an SUV. Which is not to say we shouldn’t be moving toward solar powered metaphorical buses. I just wanted to point out the misleading metaphor for shared servers.

    On the other hand, it does make an argument toward using shared sites lie WordPress or LiveJournal instead of having your own hosting account, since you’re then using a lot more disk space and processing power than is required by your content. I know I’m guilty of that, since I have only about 20 accounts on my server, and most of those take up only a fraction of their allotted resources. I may have to readdress that…

  2. 2 Ray Hill June 12, 2007 at 12:29 am

    Related point: Is it really a good thing to keep all your email archives on the web in Yahoo or Gmail accounts (where they consume always-on server resources), instead of storing them offline in PST files? Interesting food for thought…

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