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Recap: How Green Is the Internet?

How green is the Internet?  That’s a great question.   Not coincidentally, it’s also the name of a summit meeting today at Google headquarters.  (You can watch live at

Participants make up an intriguing mix of experts from industry, academia, government and NGOs.   For our part, ITI is helping to explore emerging questions around the environmental impacts and benefits of the Internet, and the data centers that drive many of the services on which people around the world rely.

These questions are significant.  As the digital revolution evolves into the mobility revolution, with smartphone and tablet owners expecting connectivity to their services from anywhere, at anytime, all this activity and data requires 24/7 infrastructure.   This means thousands of data centers and networks of networks must be accessible and operating seamlessly.  

Clearly, this has environmental consequences – on the whole, very positive ones.  Moving greater numbers of bits instead of atoms should make future economic activity more sustainable, not less.  There are many studies that confirm this view.  However, most of these studies are dated (at least in IT time) and don’t reflect the cutting-edge technologies that are driving progress.

For instance, the last governmental study on data center energy use was published in 2007, using 2005-6 data.  In the life of IT, a six-year-old study, using data that are seven or eight years old, is archaic.  That’s one reason why ITI is supporting legislation, H.R. 540, introduced by Representatives Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Mike Rogers, R-Mich., which includes a mandate for a new U.S. Department of Energy-led update to this study.

At the summit, I’ll lead two breakouts on e-commerce.  Our goal is to identify potential impacts and benefits of the Internet in the e-commerce arena, determine key questions, and identify paths forward.  While I’ll be curious as to whether participants think we have up-to-date data to support our conversation, I’m more interested in hearing where the experts think the e-commerce sector is headed and what innovations are around the corner.  What new transformations are coming, and how can industry and government work together to ensure that they will result in future sustainability as well as growth?

Follow the event online and share your own observations.  A green Internet is going to be a central part of everyone’s future.

Public Policy Tags: Environment & Sustainability, Energy
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