High speed Internet: can broadband save the planet?

By December 20, 2007

A study released last October by the American Consumer Institute praises the benefic impact of a widely spread use of broadband could have on environment by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Desperately browsing for Christmas pres

ents on the Internet to avoid the frenetic crowd at the malls, who could guess that simply using your high speed Internet connection can help reduce global warming? Generalizing the use of broadband could save 1 billion tons of greenhouses gas over 10 years, which represent 11% of annual oil imports, according to the study “Broadband services: economic and Environmental benefits”, by Joseph P. Fuhr and Stephen B. Pociask. The study focuses of the different behaviors the use of high speed Internet allows, such as buying online, telecommuting, e-materializing, teleconferencing, distance learning, and converts their benefits into saving of greenhouse gas emissions by mainly cutting on energy. Using high speed Internet mainly influences the amount of travel, space and material needed when you buy, work or learn based on rather simple findings. “Indeed, instead of going to five or 6 stores to find who has a product or who has the best price, you can just search on the Internet and buy online, so it cuts back on the pollution linked to the commute”, explains Joseph P. Fuhr, author of the study, and professor of Economics at Widener University. “As for the supply chain, it decreases the inventory, which means less storage facilities, so less need for heat, air conditioning and lighting. Dell for example has increased its sales by 36 times, while their facilities space has been reduced by 4.” Overall, e-commerce already cuts 37.5 million tons of CO2 emissions, and could save 206.3 million tons in 2017. “It is a conservative estimate, as we consider only business to business and business to consumer, but not consumer to consumer in this forecast.” Same conclusions are drawn about telecommute, with more than 588 million tons saved from less driving, less congestion, less office spaces built, and less energy spent to operate these buildings. Replacing first class mail by emails, plastic CDs and DVDs by downloads, newspapers by online reading could also spare 67.2 millions tons of CO2. Nevertheless, broadband has to overcome some challenges to really make a difference. Only 50% of American households subscribe to broadband according to a research conducted by Kagan in 2006, despite the fact that access is available to 95% of them. Also, as Joseph P. Fuhr acknowledges, “the focus of this study is on benefits from using high speed Internet”, but what about e-waste? The environmental cost of e-waste compared to the benefits of broadband is hard to measure. According to the report “Management of electronic waste in the United States” published in April 2007 by the U.S Environment Protection Agency, “in 2005, used or unwanted electronics amounted to approximately 1.9 to 2.2 million tons. Of that, about 1.5 to 1.9 million tons were primarily discarded in landfills, and only 345,000 to 379,000 tons were recycled.” If using broadband is a first step against global warming, efforts in personal tech to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not running in high gear yet. By Helene Labriet-Gross, for L’Atelier   FEEDBACK For comments on this article, email us at editorial@atelier-us.com

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