By Prasad Mandava, General Manager and Vice President of Engineering, Akamai India
Our reliance on the internet has grown exponentially over the past few years, but the pandemic’s acceleration of internet adoption has made 2021 the year of transformation. The numbers speak for themselves, with global internet consumption increasing by 7.3% in January 2021 compared to last year. As digitization and connectivity become the new norm in our daily lives, the way businesses are managed and conducted will also experience major changes – sectors such as digital payments, e-commerce, over-the- top (OTT) and games are experiencing unprecedented growth and are driving the global economy.
As internet consumption has increased, we cannot ignore the fact that this growing trend has environmental consequences. 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 at the heart of the Internet.
Also in India, when the pandemic hit and businesses switched to remote working due to social distancing, internet usage skyrocketed. In January 2021, there were 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 remote work more fractured and dynamic. Internet data storage and transfer has worsened the carbon footprint in the environment. A search on Google, sending an e-mail or simply browsing social networks increases the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. Even sending a WhatsApp message today has its own small carbon footprint. And it all adds up to climate change.
While organizations and individuals have largely focused their efforts on creating a sustainable environment, we must also seek to encourage awareness and action for internet protection.
The Internet poses many problems for the environment and is responsible for around 2% of the world’s energy consumption. It also emits as much carbon dioxide as the airline industry. It’s hard to imagine that the internet we access from the comfort of our homes will affect the environment, but there are several things that impact the internet’s carbon footprint. Primarily, electronic devices such as cell phones, televisions, laptops/computers and other internet-enabled devices contribute to the carbon footprint either through their manufacture or through the electricity they consume. Added to this is the infrastructure backbone that supports these devices such as data centers, cables and other technological equipment. The carbon footprint varies according to the devices, their mode of consumption and the power supply of these devices. With India’s ever-increasing internet consumption and the new normal of remote working, the impact on the environment will continue to grow.
However, all is not lost. Small steps taken by organizations can go a long way in minimizing the environmental impact of information technology systems, thereby reducing the carbon footprint. According to a recent Akamai sustainability report, the company derives 50% of its energy from renewable sources. This is a big step in the right direction to bring about positive change to protect the earth’s natural resources, given that the company is a leading provider of performance, safety and delivery to the world.
It is critical that organizations design their sustainability initiatives to measure and mitigate the impact of their business operations while maximizing and enhancing the benefits of sustainable business practices. Sustainable programs should focus on areas such as network carbon efficiency, e-waste management, renewable energy supply, and low environmental impact corporate office selection and renovation programs .
To help reduce emissions, organizations should seriously consider the following steps to lay the foundation for a sustainable business and future:
• Renewable energy: Companies should prioritize implementing and sourcing buyer-driven renewable energy, with the goal of powering 100% of its operations. This can include data centers, offices, and any source of electricity.
• Energy efficient platforms: The greatest energy consumption by an organization is the operation of its peripheral platform. Engineering teams must constantly work to develop hardware and software efficiencies that help reduce energy consumption, not only for the benefit of the organization but also for its customers.
• Mitigation of platform emissions: Building a Net Zero Edge platform requires working with data center providers and owners to provide attestable sources of renewable energy equivalent to the company’s footprint. Where this is not possible, companies should plan to reduce absolute emissions using credible greenhouse gas offsets offered by accredited organizations.
• Responsible supply chain management and green alliances: Companies should implement a new responsible supply chain program to ensure that suppliers also meet environmental and social objectives. They should engage with the best suppliers to benchmark and quantify Scope 3 emissions with the aim of achieving measurable reduction, and also consider forming important green alliances with their stakeholders. If a company is familiar with the concept of green technology, it should help other companies.
The future of the internet is green
Embracing 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 rethink their strategies and help steer the economy onto a more sustainable growth path by investing in and adopting green technology solutions. Protecting the environment should be a shared responsibility and being environmentally conscious is not only the right thing to do, it’s also a good business decision. We are reaping all the benefits of the internet, and now is the time to take responsibility for greening it.