By Prasad Mandava, Managing Director and Vice President of Engineering, Akamai India
Our reliance on the internet has been growing exponentially in the past few years, however the pandemic-infused acceleration of internet adoption has made 2021 the year of transformation. The numbers speak for themselves with global internet consumption going up by 7.3% in January 2021 from last year. As digitization and connectivity become the new normal in our daily lives, the way businesses are run and conducted will also see major shifts – sectors such as digital payments, e-commerce, over-the-top (OTT) media services, and gaming are experiencing unprecedented growth and are driving the global economy.
While the consumption of internet has been growing, we cannot ignore the fact that there are environmental consequences to this growing trend. It is estimated that by 2025, one fifth of the world’s electricity will be needed to power communications technologies such as server farms and telecommunications infrastructure, which are the core of the Internet.
In India too, when the pandemic struck and businesses moved to remote working due to social distancing, the usage of internet exploded. As of January 2021, there are 624 million internet users in India. This unprecedented shift to an “online life” has forced the introduction of an unimaginable number of digital technologies, making the -remote workplace more fractured and dynamic. The storage and transferring of internet data have aggravated the carbon footprint in the environment. A Google search, sending an email or just scrolling through social media adds to the amount of carbon that is being emitted into the atmosphere. Even sending a WhatsApp message today has its own tiny carbon footprint. And, it all adds up to climate change.
While organizations and people have largely concentrated their efforts to build a sustainable environment, we must also look at encouraging awareness and action for the protection of the internet.
The Internet poses a lot of concerns for the environment and is responsible for about 2% of global energy usage – it also emits as much carbon dioxide as the airline industry. It is difficult to imagine that the internet we access from the comfort of our homes will affect the environment but, there are multiple things that impact the carbon footprint on the internet. Primarily, electronic devices such as mobile phones, televisions, laptops/computers, and other internet enabled devices, contribute to carbon footprint either through their manufacturing, or the electricity consumed by them. Added to which is the infrastructure backbone that supports these devices such as data centers, cables, and other technology equipment. The carbon footprint varies from devices to their consumption pattern and the powering of these devices. With India’s ever-growing internet consumption and new normal of remote working, the impact on the environment will continue to grow.
However, not all is lost. Small steps taken by organizations can go a long way in minimizing the environmental impact of information technology systems, thereby reducing carbon footprint. According to a recent Akamai sustainability report, the company sources 50% of its energy from renewable sources. This is a big step in the right direction in making a positive change to protect the earth’s natural resources, considering the company is one of the leading performance, security, and delivery providers in the world.
It is critical for organizations to design their sustainability initiatives in a manner that measures and mitigates the impact of their business operations while maximizing and enhancing the benefits from sustainable business practices. Sustainable programs should focus on areas such as network carbon efficiency, electronic waste management, renewable energy procurement, and environmentally lower-impact corporate office selection and renovation programs.
To help reduce emissions output, organizations should strongly consider the following steps to lay the foundation for a sustainable business and future:
• Renewable energy: Companies should prioritize the implementation and procurement of purchaser-caused renewable energy, with a goal to power 100% of its operations. This may include data centers, offices, and any source of electricity.
• Energy-efficient platforms: The greatest energy consumption by an organization is the operation of its edge platform. Engineering teams should constantly work to develop hardware and software efficiencies that help reduce power, not only for the benefit of the organization but also for its customers.
• Mitigating platform emissions: Creation of a net zero edge platform requires working with data center providers and landlords to provide attestable sources of renewable power equivalent to the company’s footprint. When this is not possible, companies should plan to reduce absolute emissions through the use of credible greenhouse gas offsets offered by accredited organizations.
• Responsible supply chain management and green alliances: Companies should institute a new responsible supply chain program to ensure suppliers also follow environmental and social goals. They should engage with top suppliers to baseline and quantify Scope 3 emissions with a goal towards a measurable reduction, and also look at forming major green alliances with their stakeholders. If a company is well versed with the concept of green technology, it should help other companies.
The Future of Internet is Green
Adoption of sustainable solutions should now be of utmost importance to any organization, especially in a world transformed by the impact of Covid-19. Businesses need to be rethinking their strategies and help steer the economy on a more sustainable growth trajectory by investing and adopting green technology solutions. Protecting the environment has to be a shared responsibility and being environmentally conscious is not only the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. We all reap the benefits of the internet, and now is the time to take responsibility for greening it.