How the internet negatively impacts the environment

Facebook recently released its carbon footprint report for 2011, and they calculated their impact on the environment at 285,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. That’s the equivalent of 55,882 passenger vehicles or 7,307,692 trees, according to the EPA Greenhouse gas calculator. The majority of that comes from their data centers, which power their servers, and make the website update continuously with your friend’s updates, and processes your own status updates and photos at lightning-fast speed.

So websites like this, along with other environmental websites, actually contribute to the carbon emission problem, all while attempting to get others to minimize their impact. I think the power and influence of the internet will more than make up for this additional impact, when you think about how many more people have been educated and made aware of climate change. Still, it makes me feel a little guilty.

One of my goals for this website, and other websites I manage and own, is to get them carbon neutral. This can be accomplished in a few different ways.

1) Move your website to a company that uses renewable energy. Aiso.net (affiliate link) has their own solar panel system that runs their websites. There’s a larger list of Green Web Hosting companies on HelpSaveEarth.org.

Green Website Shared Hosting

2) Move your website to a company that purchases offsets for their usage

There are two companies I have found that offer offsets for their customers are FatCow (affiliate link) and Canvas Dreams (affiliate link). I’m sure there are many more, but I am familiar with these two, and have used FatCow for one of my sites.

CanvasHost Green Hosting

These two both purchase the energy used by their data centers and business operations from a wind farm. The money is used to fund larger renewable energy projects, or add to the wind farm. It’s a good option for these hosting companies, that aren’t large enough to buy their own renewable energy systems. This is probably the most common option you’ll come across.

3) Purchase offsets directly for your website

Better World Energy offer carbon offset options for your website or blog

The only problem is that the offset is very generic, and not specific to your website. So it’s a good start, but not ideal. I prefer actual numbers.

In addition, switching websites is not a fun task. It takes a lot of time, and can cause interruptions, delays, bugs and loss of performance. So for now, I’m going to try and pursue option #3 for my websites.

My current host company is GoDaddy (affiliate link), and I have approached them with the idea to automatically calculate the carbon impact of an individual website each month, and setup a carbon offset program, to be used to fund their renewable energy initiatives. The first problem is that there currently isn’t any way to estimate the impact of a single website. It depends on a lot of factors, such as number of graphics, videos, text, the number of site visitors, how many pages they click on, the type of computer used to view the website, the energy provider of the computer user, and what they download from the site (and many more I’m sure I forgot). I think they could come up with an estimate, just to get started. I approached them online and in person (at a renewable energy expo) but no response yet.

Don’t own a website? If you’re just a “surfer”, you can also make a difference by looking at solar and wind powered devices for your computer. HelpSaveEarth also has some items you might be interested in.

Have you had any experience with website or blog offsets? Are you surprised by the carbon footprint impact of a website like Facebook?