December 12, 2007

Could broadband help the environment?

Environmentally friendly business practices have become commonplace over the last decade, and the technology sector is no exception. With organizations like Gartner and publications like E-Commerce Times listing Green IT among their top trends for 2008, many people may be wondering what they can do to make their technology usage more environmentally friendly.

According to two recently released reports, the answer might be as simple as switching to a high-speed internet connection. In “Broadband Services: Economic and Environmental Benefits” (released Oct. 31, 2007), the American Consumer Institute (ACI) suggests that if broadband adoption became widespread, there could be a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, equaling 1 billion tons over the course of 10 years. Australian telecommunications company Telstra also released a recent report suggesting that its country could reduce emissions by nearly 5% by the year 2015 if it takes advantage of new telecommunication technologies.

The reports propose simple answers to saving energy through faster internet connections. The ACI study breaks down its 1 billion tons saved into the categories such as e-commerce, telecommuting, teleconferencing, and downloading music and videos online, all of which can save gas mileage, office space, and paper waste. The Australian study offers similar suggestions such as teleworking and decentralized working, which offers a regional location outside of the home to work while still reducing commuting distance.

But is this a feasible goal to set for ourselves? It would certainly seem so from recent Pew Internet Project data. A November backgrounder from John Horrigan shows that broadband adoption in the U.S. has passed the 50% mark after just 10 years, faster than CD players, VCRs, or cell phones. However, there is a significant portion of the population that must be addressed: in an August 2007 memo, Horrigan includes data showing that in 2006, 29% of Americans did not use the internet, and 15% had a dial-up connection at home. Progress will need to be made within these two groups in order to move U.S. adoption into the levels that ACI suggests are necessary.