Being Green Part III: Interesting Thoughts on Paper versus Cloud

This is my third installment of “Being Green.” In it, I reference two fairly recent pieces of research to show how conflicting these reports can be. One illustrates the benefits of reducing paper and moving to digital services, while the other hits on the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions due to increased data center usage.

Helping to Reduce Paper

First the good, if 20% of us switched to electronic services, it would save more than: 151 million pounds of paper, avoiding the creation of nearly 1.5 million gallons of wastewater, save 1.8 million trees, eliminating the production of nearly 4 billion pounds of greenhouse gases and avoiding the use of nearly103 million of gallons of gasoline each year. Nice, right?

Yet even with these benefits, consider a counterpoint (though not an apples-to-apples comparison) below.

Cloud Update

The cloud is now getting attention from an unusual source. Greenpeace, in a recent report, links growth in the cloud to future sharp rises in greenhouse gas emissions and is calling on companies such as Facebook, Yahoo and Google to do more to help the environment. This report seems to lump data center services into the cloud. Though data centers represent just a small percentage of worldwide power consumption, Greenpeace estimates that the amount of power consumed by the world’s data centers and telecom networks will triple from 2007 to 2020.

So what do you think? Is a digital world really better for the environment or not?

These types of reports are often somewhat vague and leave readers pumped up one way or the other… until they read yet another piece of research with yet another perspective. The point is, nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems. And herein lies an example of unintended consequences—reports and statistics such as these don’t fully show how all variables are factored and what the offsets are on either side. Continued misinformation and confusion result.

My advice is to understand multiple perspectives, but tune out the noise and continue to focus on solutions that offer multifaceted benefits along with good ROI.