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What’s a green Internet?

Climate change is arguably the biggest problem we face today. 

While many of us are aware that following a plant-based diet or reducing our reliance on cars and flights can significantly reduce our carbon footprint, many are blissfully unaware that the Internet we consume also causes major climate-damaging CO2e (Carbon Dioxide Equivalent). 

Thirty minutes of streaming videos emit between 28 and 57g of CO2e while binge-watching a 10-hour series on Netflix uses the same energy as charging a smartphone 145 times. 

So what does this mean? Should we stop using the Internet for the sake of a greener planet? 

While the answer to this is tricky and not exactly straightforward, it’s essential to explore the issue first. Only then can we discover the current solutions available, including what Namecheap is doing, to combat it.  

Data centers are the real culprit

servers at data centers

Ultimately, it all comes down to data. Data centers, to be exact. 

This means that every webpage you open, song you download, or video you watch consists of data. Contrary to popular belief, this data doesn’t just exist on its own. It has to be produced, housed, and made available to everyone through something called a “data center” or “data processing unit.” 

A data center simply refers to a large facility with dedicated space, data communication lines, power supplies, and backup systems. Studies show that some of the world’s largest data centers can each contain many tens of thousands of IT devices, requiring more than 100 megawatts (MW) of power capacity. This is enough to power around 80,000 households in the US

While most companies typically don’t reveal the locations of their data centers for privacy reasons, it’s become widely accepted that data centers are responsible for almost 30% of the Internet’s energy requirements. And according to The New York Times, most data centers consume incredible amounts of energy in very wasteful ways. This means companies continue to run their facilities at maximum capacity, no matter the demand or the time of day. This can result in data centers wasting 90% or more of the electricity they pull off the electrical grid.

Why do we need a green Internet?

Thanks to the bandwidth-heavy services of Netflix, Facebook, YouTube, and the gaming companies Activation Blizzard and Epic Games, the growth in Internet traffic is now off the charts, with as much as 80% of the data capacity going to these aforementioned players

In the case of YouTube, a 2016 study carried out by Bristol University calculated that streaming videos from 1.4 billion users produced CO2e of more than 11 million tonnes a year, similar to Frankfurt, Germany, or Glasgow, Scotland. And given how YouTube currently has more than 2.4 billion users globally, this carbon footprint is undoubtedly bigger.  

However, it is worth pointing out that the streaming and TV industries contribute far less than others. For example, microwaving a bag of popcorn for 4 minutes produces about 30% of the carbon emissions that watching an hour of streamed content does

What can be done to make the Internet green 

green servers powered by wind

The desire to become a greener Internet isn’t anything new. 

In fact, from 2010 to 2013, the ECONET (low Energy COnsumption NETworks) project took place, which was co-funded by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme. This project aimed to study and exploit dynamic adaptive technologies for wired network devices that allowed for the saving of energy when a device (or part of it) was not being used. 

And now that the European Commission’s European Green Deal and several large international companies claim that their facilities and entire product portfolios will be climate neutral by 2050, this just shows how much companies believe in the need to step up their sustainability measures and actively engage in reducing their overall environmental impact.

Facebook and Google, for example, are two companies that supposedly already do this by using re-engineered software and cooling systems to decrease wasted power. Still, according to recent reports, Google’s data centers consume nearly 300 million watts and Facebook’s, about 60 million watts.

Some industry experts recommend using new, low-impact, direct liquid-cooling systems to limit the active movement of air over servers, which would eliminate the need to cool the entire data hall, which would, in turn, reduce energy consumption and costs. 

Traditional data centers also rely on incredible amounts of water. Did you know that a typical data center uses about 3-5 million gallons of water per day, equivalent to the water supply of a city with 30,000-50,000 people? Simply replacing these water evaporation cooling systems with innovative closed-loop systems that utilize recycled water rather than fresh water would help to lower this immense burden on local water systems. 

Others believe the greenest solution lies in the cloud, meaning centralized computing between data centers. This just means that data centers would rely on virtualization technology, which is when servers merge their identities into extensive, flexible computing resources that can be given out as needed to users, no matter where they’re located. To learn more about cloud computing, check out one of our in-depth articles on this very topic. 

Whether that’s donating previously-used dedicated servers to nonprofits or participating in green-based initiatives such as tree planting with Team Trees, Namecheap as a company is aware that the world is changing at a rapid pace, and sustainability should be at the forefront. 

That’s why Namecheap’s Shared Hosting plans now feature an EU data center that’s located in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, which uses 100% electricity from renewable resources. Not only is this data center ISO 140001 certified and ISO 50001 certified, but its supplier is also part of The Climate Pledge™, which is committed to achieving Net Zero emissions by 2040. These particular plans also feature cloud storage, which offers zero downtime, true stability, and the highest performance. 

Final thoughts

Yeti in front of a green website

The Internet has undoubtedly enabled positive change and bettered the lives of many people around the world. But we can’t pretend that the future of our planet isn’t at risk if we don’t adopt greener, more sustainable systems. 

The good news? Many companies are committed to becoming 100% renewably powered. Add to this data center operators and Internet companies who are actively exploring options to increase their renewable energy supply. 

Even if data is considered the fuel of the Internet, everything comes at a cost, so it’s time we, as consumers, start to ask critical questions about how the products and services we actively consume are produced and run. It’s only through a more conscious approach to connectivity that we’ll be able to meet our greener goals, which include green data. To learn more about how you can actively reduce your carbon footprint, follow Imperial College London’s 9 easy ways

What do you do on a daily basis to reduce your carbon footprint? Let us know in the comments below!

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Erin Huebscher avatar

Erin Huebscher

As a born-and-bred American who now resides in Germany, Erin brings her love of digital storytelling to Namecheap. With nearly 10 years of international copywriting experience from her time in Stockholm, Sweden, and an MA in Creative Writing, she has a penchant for all things fashion, film, food, and travel. More articles written by Erin.

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