Calculating Green

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Since 2007, we’ve been offsetting our infrastructure by purchasing trees from Greenfleet – we’ve calculated how many trees to purchase by factoring in the size of our servers and their electrical draw at peak utilisation. More ephemerally, we’re now also including bandwidth into our calculation for data over our CDN.

Carbon Sequestration

The process of planting trees to offset negative environmental impact (particularly related to industries producing CO2, ie. electricity) is commonly referred to as ‘carbon sequestration’. When electricity is generated for our server infrastructure, it is usually coming from a coal fed power grid, and is the reason why we intentionally carbon offset as much as we can – carbon offsetting is one of the few ways we as a company can mitigate the harm coal burning has on our environment.

Capture

As a tree grows, in produces oxygen, and absorbs CO2. However, the CO2 it absorbs does not ‘disappear’, but is held within the biomass of the tree itself. So, while the CO2 is temporarily captured, it will when the tree dies, technically reenter the atmosphere as the tree rots or is burned.

The earth is able to cope with a slow release of CO2 – what it can’t cope with, is the rapid production of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels, which has led to what is now coined climate change.

In the case of reforestation, we’re capturing CO2 and essentially delaying it’s release to a time much further in the future – we’re using the natural cycle of nature as a battery to suck up as much CO2 as possible, and then releasing it slowly at a later date.

So, why bother? Other benefits

While reforestation has carbon capture benefits, it is not a solution unto itself, and is also not a fast enough method of capture to offset the speed at which humanity is releasing ancient CO2 gasses by burning fossil based fuels.

Benefits of reforestation are the production of oxygen, the attraction of rain, and the significant benefit of improving soil quality – trees are actively used to solve dryland salinity issues in areas such as the Murray Darling basin, which has suffered greatly after European colonisation through the creation of farmlands & pastures.

Oh, and trees are quite simply, awesome: To climb, to see, to seek shade under, and to admire.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the term used for expressing the capacity of a data network. The earth is surrounded by a complex network of cables, cell towers and satellites which power the Internet & mobile web, growing at a compound rate of 21% per year, and exceeding 1,000,000,000,000 gigabytes in annual traffic by 2016.

All of this data crisscrossing the globe requires energy – from the physical copper & fibre links, to powering the radio waves which penetrate the air for satellite and mobile connectivity.

The electricity used in data transmission for the average iPhone user (1.58Gb/month), is conservatively estimated to be ~361 kWh of electricity per year – or the equivalent of burning 121Kg of coal. To better understand this number, consider that there are roughly 3 million iPhones in Australia – if we average their usage to 1.58Gb/month, the total environmental cost in iPhone bandwidth usage (not including tablets, Android devices, etc) is equivalent to consuming 1.7 million barrels of oil, or having 157,000 cars on the road for an entire year.

These numbers for mobile energy consumption are regarded by some as being grossly conservative, with some estimates estimating the amount to be 4x greater.

A 2008 paper from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests it takes 13kWh to transmit 1GB across land based networks (the majority of the Internet). By this calculation, you can grab the bandwidth stats for your website (if you’re using one of our shared hosting accounts, you can navigate to your control panel, and view the Bandwidth section to see how much your site is consuming), and multiply it by 13. Once you have that number, head over to the EPA calculator, enter the number, and select ‘kilowatt-hours of electricity’ from the dropdown. You’ll then be presented with a host of calculations and equivalencies.

What can you do?

If you run a high traffic website, consider keeping your site efficient and fast. You can also think about using services such as our CDN, which reduces global network traffic by serving data as close to the client as possible. And of course, spread the word – it’s common knowledge that cars pollute – but your iPhone?

Conclusion

The cost both environmentally and in terms of pure dollars to pay for the electricity which powers the Internet is huge – however, if you’re a Serversaurus customer, your environmental debt has been partially paid for through our offsetting campaigns. While we do our best to calculate fairly, we can’t factor it all in, and unfortunately we’re only one of thousands of web hosts, with many not considering the environmental cost of their operations in the slightest.

Protip: Code and design for a lighter, faster, and more efficient web – not only is that huge image on the frontpage of your website poorly optimised and slow to load for visitors, but it’s also burning significant amounts of primarily dirty electricity!

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