Internet and E-Commerce Businesses Are A Long Way Off From Reducing Their Carbon Footprint

Are you like millions of others who assume that an online business, just by virtue of being online, translates to having a lower carbon footprint?  If so, then you are in for a shock. Although this is a fairly common assumption, the truth is that internet powered businesses often have a higher energy consumption requirements than offline businesses and so might have a long way to go before they can become green.

And the situation looks like it could get worse over the next few years. Get this….

  • According to the EPA, over the next five years, power failures and limits on availability will stop operations at more than 90% of data centers
  • Gartner predicts that early 50% of data centers worldwide will have trouble finding the electricity they need to cool and power their computing equipment
  • 97% of respondents in a new survey conducted by the Business Performance Management Forum (BPM) said that it was important for internet and e-commerce businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.

But despite this, very little action is being taken by online businesses to reduce energy consumption.

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Think eco-logical survey

BPM and Rackable Systems have recently launched an Eco-Logical initiative which addresses both the emotional side (Eco) of IT sustainability imperatives and the pragmatic side (Logical) of proper business management. Through a new strategic approach of combing both environmental and fiscal thinking, Eco-Logical simultaneously satisfies social responsibility and bolsters business value. By engaging in sound efficiency practices, organizations can achieve IT sustainability imperatives through dramatically reduced power usage. By focusing on business drivers, they can significantly reduce costs and achieve bottom-line benefits.

The BPM Forum recently conducted a survey among IT professionals as part of their Think Eco-logical initiative. The study was sponsored by Intel and Rackable Systems, two hardware companies that are committed to helping IT companies adopt ecologically sound practices and who have a client roster that includes a variety of large and small internet companies including Google, Yahoo, and Time Warner.

Internet and E-commerce companies are given failing grades in their ‘green agenda’

The IT professionals that were interviewed gave the internet and e-commerce industry failing grades for their current progress in embracing green practices and principles. They suggested that despite increased media attention about the importance of a a universal green agenda, and that while intentions are good, there is a startling dearth of leadership for green initiatives and practices. Lack of executive focus is a major environmental sustainability challenge.  Meaningful executive action is also lagging; conducting conversation, setting CSR guidelines, and doing nothing topped the list of management activities to push the ecological mantra.

“While internet companies are certainly efficient on the consumer level in that they provide an infrastructure that drives efficient transactions, our purpose to  to get them to be efficient at all levels (i.e. beyond the transactions they provide to the consumer),” says Derek Kober, the Program Director at BPM. “But in fact 43% percent of the respondents surveyed claim that most internet companies either don’t have or don’t know that they have a corporate sustainability agenda.”

Google, Twitter and Second Life are major carbon emissions culprits

Recently, a number of online companies including Google, Twitter and Second Life have come under the radar for a potentially large carbon footprint.  This is because the nature of their business is so data intensive and they are served by multiple data servers that compete for speed rather than for efficiency.  Invariably, this adds up to huge amounts of electricity consumption.

The increased demand for Internet services such as online shopping, video downloads, social networks and massive search queries are placing a huge strain on the nation’s energy infrastructure. And internet companies are feeling the pressure to keep up. Cost cutting and rising lighting, power, and cooling costs were among the top pressures for Thinking Eco-Logical, according to the survey findings.  Three out of four of the top ecological plans over the next year to realize these cost improvements involve improved server solutions: virtualization, consolidation, and server efficiency.

“Companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo have enormous networking demands,” says Jason Coari, Senior marketing Manager of Rackable Systems, “and as smaller companies grow, they have increased needs for power. It is increasingly important for them to strive to do more with less.”

And they can “do more with less” by adopting green IT measures including cloud computing data centers, energy efficient servers, vertical storage systems and more.

Think Eco-logical offers solutions

The good news is that the Think Eco-Logical Internet Report is not about talk rather than action.  The Think Eco-Logical website already contains some white papers on the topic and will be putting together a variety of content: webinars, best practices etc. to push internet and e-commerce companies’ green agenda and help evangelize them into adopting core green philosophies. So if you are thinking about starting an online business, check out Eco-logical’s green best practices.  That way your business can be sustainable from the outset.

Think Eco-Logical Internet Report Available for Download

The Think Eco-Logical – IT Sustainability Imperatives in Internet and eCommerce Business report is available for download here.

For more information on the Think Eco-Logical initiative or Rackable Systems, visit www.rackable.com/thinkecological.

For more information on the BPM Forum or the GREEN group, visit www.bpmforum.org.

Image credit: www.rackable.com






About the Author

Reenita Malhotra Hora is an Ayurveda clinician, entrepreneur, writer and mom. Her experience has ranged from running Ayoma, an Ayurveda business to running a natural health practice at San Francisco's California Pacific Medical Center. Reenita is a published author of two books books about health and wellness: ‘Ayurveda - the Natural Medicine of India’ and ‘Inner Beauty’. She is also the Editor for Green Options Media's business blogs and a freelance writer for a variety of print and web publications. In quieter moments, she likes to spend her time hiking, swimming the warm seas, cooking with the family or writing fantasy fiction adventure stories for kids from from 2 to 92. Check out her wisdom at www.reenita.com
  • I’d be interested to learn more about how ecommerce websites can reduce their carbon footprint. As an ecommerce business owner, we have green hosting and are always looking for areas of improvement. Outside of green hosting, what other steps can be taken from an online perspective?

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