The Real Carbon Footprint of a Web Page
July 26, 2007
If a banner ad falls in the woods, does anybody see it? Seriously, does a banner ad have a carbon footprint? Over at Internetnews.com, David Needle has a fascinating discussion about the whole banner ad Vs. print ad debate regarding carbon footprint. There is a discussion of the Green Grid and other socially and environmentally responsible ways to ensure your data center is as green as can be.
My take is the carbon footprint of a web ad requires an indirect calculation. Theoretically, I could run a website without a single banner ad and have millions of viewers. I would still be sucking up electricity and giving off tons of CO2. The banner ad (or any ad for that matter) is responsible for financing most websites so perhaps measuring the “carbon footprint” of such ad vehicles make sense.
On the web, each new page is crawled, indexed, resaved and backed up frequently. It would be an interesting exercise to see how much of a carbon footprint each internet page has. Google alone copies all web pages, indexes them, crawls them frequently and performs assorted other proprietary algorithms which generate carbon.
This doesn’t even take into account the carbon generated by viewers. A viral video on YouTube could be watched by millions and force service providers to install more equipment in their data canters.
Overall, I would bet a single web page on average generates up to 5,000 times the carbon required to post the page to begin with. Think about how many web pages for example are backed up each day! This ratio– is also an annual cost and it increases over time as new search engines start to crawl the web.
Here is a chart giving you an idea of just how much more electricity is needed (carbon generated) for a typical web page each year! Notice I assume each web page is only viewed 5 times per year. I also assume 25 search engines will save the page and subsequently back these pages up every other day. The results are staggeringly large to say the least.
Additional Carbon Emitted
Average Annual Multiple
Duplicate Content backups
25*183 = 4,575
This is a fascinating concept and thanks to David for getting us thinking about the web and how it contributes to the green movement. One last point. Many magazines also post the same content from print, online meaning the comparison between print an online possible irrelevant.
Be sure to see me at the Green Technology World Conference in Los Angeles this September 2007 if you want to discuss this further.
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