It’s a humbling thought, but as web professionals, nothing we create actually exists when the power goes out. As we increase the number of devices in our world, planning for a connected web of things in hopes that the poor will be liberated, education will be free, and our fridges will tell us we’re out of lettuce, we fail to acknowledge that we scarcely have enough fossil fuels to maintain the current state for long. Web designers need to be part of the solution—and the situation is more hopeful than you may think. Dorian Peters shows how we can exercise the surprising power that lies in seemingly small designerly decisions to help our industry not only survive, but create positive impact worldwide.
Do you know your website’s carbon footprint? Or how to lower it? Emissions standards have been set for the automotive, construction, and telecommunications industries, yet the internet’s carbon footprint is growing out of control: a whopping 830 million tons of CO2 annually—larger than that of the entire aviation industry. At least 40 percent of that falls partially under the responsibility of people who make websites. It’s time for web designers to do our part. James Christie explains how to slim our obese websites and simultaneously attack our industry’s carbon footprint, using methods that conveniently dovetail with good business practice and future-friendly design.
There are 29 Superfund sites in Silicon Valley- the most concentrated number of Superfund sites in America. Nineteen of these sites were contaminated by high tech firms in the manufacturing of computer chips which used highly toxic chemicals including, trichloro-ethylene, Freon, trichloroethane and poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
A yearlong examination by The New York Times has revealed that this foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.
Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found.
To guard against a power failure, they further rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show. In Silicon Valley, many data centers appear on the state government’s Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory, a roster of the area’s top stationary diesel polluters.
Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centers in the United States account for one-quarter to one-third of that load, the estimates show.
“It’s staggering for most people, even people in the industry, to understand the numbers, the sheer size of these systems,” said Peter Gross, who helped design hundreds of data centers. “A single data center can take more power than a medium-size town.”
But for some in Quincy, the gee-whiz factor of such a prominent high-tech neighbor wore off quickly. First, a citizens group initiated a legal challenge over pollution from some of nearly 40 giant diesel generators that Microsoft’s facility — near an elementary school — is allowed to use for backup power.
Then came a showdown late last year between the utility and Microsoft, whose hardball tactics shocked some local officials.
In an attempt to erase a $210,000 penalty the utility said the company owed for overestimating its power use, Microsoft proceeded to simply waste millions of watts of electricity, records show. Then it threatened to continue burning power in what it acknowledged was an “unnecessarily wasteful” way until the fine was substantially cut, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.
“For a company of that size and that nature, and with all the ‘green’ things they advertised to me, that was an insult,” said Randall Allred, a utility commissioner and local farmer.