I have to admit that when I first looked for a new Internet company, I wasn’t thinking green—my main motivation was to escape Comcast’s high costs and poor service. But I should have been considering the carbon footprint of my daily online activities. We think we’re being green when we use the computer instead of paper, but are we?
No one knows how much energy the Internet consumes, because it’s hard to tease out all the contributing factors. A big energy drain is the large data centers (or “server farms”) that store our online data, such as the photos and videos we post, or even files we back up on remote servers; it takes energy to run these servers and to keep them cool. Some companies are secretive about how many of these server farms they maintain, but we know that overall, the number is growing. Another big chunk comes from personal computer use, both at home and at work—because we do so many tasks on our computers, it’s hard to say how much of that is Internet use. Estimates of the Internet’s carbon footprint vary from 1% to 5% of all CO2 fossil-fuel emissions, and some say it’s exceeded the footprint of the aviation industry. Scientists estimate that the Internet’s energy consumption is growing by 10% each year.
So what do we do? Some large companies are turning to alternative energy, as well as building more energy-efficient server farms. And it turns out that a smaller San Francisco Internet service provider, Webpass, is also doing its part. The company is powered by wind, and when you get your service installed, the technician might arrive in an electric vehicle.
I’d heard that Webpass was a quicker and cheaper option, which is why I looked into switching. It’s a small, local business, which means you get much more immediate, personalized service. Call the number on the website and the president answers. There are real people to contact with questions, and they’re easy to reach. Add to that the green factor, and making the switch from Comcast becomes even more attractive.
So I made getting Webpass for my condo complex the first initiative for our Green Committee. We got approval from the board, the service was installed, and quite a few residents have signed up already.
For now, Webpass is available only in buildings of 12 or more units in San Francisco and the East Bay. But they’re growing, and perhaps one day they’ll be able to serve smaller buildings and even single-family homes. My hope is that consumers will have more alternatives like this to the larger companies that dominate the industry—and that all of them, large or small, will make an effort to go green.