Reducing Your Business Footprint Online: Does It Matter?

By December 8, 2014
online footprint

You strive to be a green, tech-savvy leader. You’ve moved all paper office communications online, use social media to replace direct mailers and allow employees to work from home to eliminate their carbon-producing commute. The Internet is the answer to all of your polluting woes. Or is it?

As Sebastian Greger highlights, the environmental impact of the Internet is a very complex topic. Calculating the carbon footprint of an email, for example, compared to that of sending a letter via snail mail is a daunting task with a seemingly infinite list of factors to consider. Or when calculating the impact of a Google search does that include the energy used by the computer, modem, plus any infrastructure and so on? Plus, to further complicate the debate, using the internet not only creates carbon emissions, but it also reduces them. It’s important to not only be aware of how your business impacts the environment through the Internet, but also understand how you can use it to your carbon-reducing advantage. 

The Internet isn’t Carbon-Free: Usage Tips to Consider

The sad truth is that even something as intangible as the “Internet” has a carbon footprint. And there’s a surprising lack of knowledge about that impact of our virtual business activities on the environment. The Guardian estimates that the carbon footprint of the Internet is around 300 million tons a year, “equivalent to every person in the UK flying to America and back twice over.”  While, TreeHugger found that the Internet accounts for 3% of US electricity consumption and 2% of global CO2 emissions. Likewise, the animation on CarbonFeed is depressing to watch.

Going green is something that manifests itself in our choices and processes everyday. Author Nicholas Carr points out, “We may be obsessive about turning off the lights when we leave a room, but at the same time we may happily spend hours [messing] around online, oblivious of the electricity lighting up our screen, heating our chip, and powering and cooling the data centers we’re connected to.” With so much of businesses being run online, it’s important to be aware of the impact that has on our carbon footprint. Here are some lesser known ways to curve your footprint online and become a greener Internet user. 

Email isn’t 100% green

While email has done wonders to reduce our paper use and improve communications, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The Guardian estimates that a simple email has a carbon footprint of 4g of CO2, while an email with a large attachment could have a footprint of 50g. It may not seem like a lot, but it can add up, to specifically 44,000 tons of CO2 a day! I’m not about to give up my inbox, but being aware is important and there are some simple ways we can curb the excess. Dedicated cloud hosting provider SingleHop offers some simple suggestions. 

  • Limit reply to all: Does everyone in the “to” box really need to see your response? Limiting its use will reduce annoyance as well as your carbon footprint.
  • Use inbox search: If you can find the email on your own, no one has to hit “resend.”
  • Dont spam: this is not only a good environmental practice, but also a solid marketing one. By segmenting your email list, customers will always be sent only relevant content.
  • Unsubscribe: ask yourself, “when was the last time I actually read that newsletter?” Take the second to unsubscribe and save yourself time and CO2 production in the future.
  • Talk in person: Sometimes a simple 30 second conversation can solve a problem that would take 10 emails back and forth. Plus, relationships are good.

Less Social Media, More Social

In the grand scheme of things, Social Media isn’t a major carbon contributor. Using Facebook for one year emits about as much carbon as drinking a latte. But, every bit counts and awareness of social media’s impact on your business and the environment is still relevant.

How social is social media if you’re forgoing in-person interactions for sending a reply or clicking “like”? Turn off those annoying push notifications and reduce your stress while reducing your carbon footprint. You might also consider deleting any unused accounts. Cleaning up your unused brand assets can help protect your privacy as well as streamline your message, all while reducing CO2 emissions. SingleHop recommends Just Delete Me for deleting your account from almost any service out there.

The bigger picture issue is, where do social media giants like Twitter and Facebook get their power? Facebook has an electricity bill of over $1 million. But there is some hope. After significant pressure, in December 2011 Facebook announced its goal to run on renewable energy. According to Facebook, in 2013 their energy mix was 14% clean and renewable, 34% coal, 23% nuclear, 17% natural gas and 12% purchased by utilities in the market. Facebook claims to still be on track to hit 25% renewable energy sources by the end of 2015, but the percentage of clean and renewable energy in their mix has declined over the last two years.

Cloud Your Data

The exponential growth of “the cloud” is turning IT and cloud computing into one of the fastest growing sectors in terms of energy consumption. This provides a unique opportunity as providers have the ability to direct us all towards a cleaner grid. And some green cloud providers are doing just that. The cloud isn’t just for large corporations anymore, cloud-based services can help small businesses reduce costs and their carbon footprint. Maybe it’s time to take advantage of economies of scale and move to the cloud. You could be wasting energy, space and money by keeping your servers on site.  Small Business Trends mentions, “According to one survey in 2010, a small business with 100 users could cut its carbon footprint and energy costs by 90% by moving to the cloud.”

  • Are your servers underutilized? Few companies can actually justify the cost of efficient network hardware. Using a managed hosting service that optimizes its network hardware might make more sense for your energy bills and environmental goals.
  • Cooling advantages: many on-site servers use basic cooling systems like fans or AC systems while large cloud storage centers can develop advanced cooling technologies that are much more efficient.
  • Use only what you need: many cloud providers will offer pay-as-you-go plans that allow you to only pay for the data you need. In the long run this makes financial and environmental sense.
  • Virtual backup: Even if you have an onsite server, off-site backups are a necessary protection. A second server can hike up your energy costs as well as increasing your carbon footprint. Using a virtual backup service is not only secure but it can take advantages of the energy efficiency of a virtual provider.
  • Choose a green provider: Some cloud providers like GreenQloud are run completely on renewable energy sources.

Employ the Power of the Internet: Tools to Green Your Business

O.K., we can see that surprisingly the Internet has a massive footprint of it’s own. But to be fair, it has done a lot to decrease the environmental impact of business at the same time. Here are some innovative ways that your business can use the Internet to run a greener ship. 

Seek Out Paperless Business Services

Many services that have traditionally used mounds of paper are now available to businesses as paperless options.

  • Small business loans: Some small business loan providers are creating seamless application processes that are completely online. This doesn’t only save trees, but it also saves your business paperwork headaches and processing and approval times tend to be significantly faster. Check out our partner IOU Central’s super fast online application process.
  • Employee Payroll: again, normally associated with tons of paperwork. But no more! Paperless payroll providers offer integrated services like online reporting, paperless statements and direct deposit. Cutting out paper and shipping impacts of traditional paper methods can reduce your emissions and your HR bills.
  • Use An E-Fax Service: Even in today’s technologically advanced offices, thankfully nothing can replace an original signature. Fax documents still have a place in our business world, but that doesn’t mean that you need to use a stack of paper every time you receive a fax. Look into a paperless fax service that will deliver fax documents directly into your inbox as well as send faxes to other people without the hassle of printing out and faxing something in a big fax machine.

Encourage A Greener Commute

Not every company can afford to pay their employees to bike to work or provide solar-powered shuttles for transportation to the office. However, no matter your budget, your commuters can use Google Maps to look up green commute options like bike routes, street views that preview walking terrain, public transit routes (schedules and fares) and electric vehicle charging stations.

The Guardian makes a good point, “On the other hand, the internet is likely to be crucial to any move to a low-carbon world. Without its capacity to carry the huge flows of energy data, there could be no “smart grid”, for example, and without online video conferencing it would be much harder to reduce the number of business flights in coming years. Ultimately, then, it’s not just technological developments that will affect the growing carbon footprint of the Internet. Just as important is how we choose to use it.”