How green are our online services?

Picture of fig plant and monitor
The Museums Computer Group’s JISCmail list had an interesting thread yesterday discussing the environmental impact and sustainability of museums’ online services. Matthew Cock of the British Museum started it off with this question:

I was thinking about how a museum might make its activities more sustainable, in terms of reducing its carbon footprint, etc. And then I got to thinking about the museum’s website (as is my job) and the internet in general. On a large scale, how much energy does the internet use up? Is anyone aware of any figures? On a local scale, we could evaluate the energy used up by the servers hosting our site, and the PCs and infrastructure inside our Museum. But how far could we decrease these (I’m not going to even mention ‘off-setting’ as an option), even as we aim to increase our site visits, and ensure good bandwidth and zero downtime? We increasingly demand that our websites are accessible, and require of 3rd parties that they help us to achieve that – is there a place for requirements that our ISPs use renewable sources of energy?

All the servers we’re using require lots of power to run and to keep them cool. Is that offset by the trips we save people making by putting lots of the information they need online?

I wasn’t sure about this comment from Nick Poole though:

If we are talking about the environmental impact specifically of digital publishing by museums, then I would argue that this is offset by several orders of magnitude by the mostly tedious and tangential blogosphere. If we’re talking about personal choices, preventing unnecessary blogging would probably be up there at number one on my list.

Oh dear. Should we shut this blog down?