Technology is a staple part of our lives. Its continuous growth has improved the world in countless ways. But what most people don’t know is the environmental impact of something as mundane as streaming a video.
In this episode, we discuss the impacts of data storage, technology, and the Internet on our world. Ali Fenn, David Mytton, and Jonathan Koomey share their insights on investing in sustainability and transitioning to more efficient energy sources. The key to global sustainability lies in the hands of data storage and technology industries. They need to find greener, more sustainable alternatives.
If you want to learn about the Internet’s environmental impacts and know how you can contribute to investing in sustainability, then this episode of the Traceroute podcast is for you.
[01:23] Areas For Infrastructure Sustainability
- The demand for increased data storage grows globally and daily.
- Data centers need more compact and more efficient transistors to decrease their harmful effects on the environment while still providing good service.
- Ali Fenn, the president of ITRenew, says we should focus on energy, materials, and the manufacturing process for infrastructure sustainability.
- Spewing a ton of waste on the back end is also alarming.
- It's vital to consider environmental sustainability for the future of the Internet infrastructure industry.
Ali Fenn: “The manufacturing process has this huge carbon impact. So let’s think about a less wasteful, less linear stream, and let's at least maximize the value we can get out of all that stuff.”
[04:53] Investing in Sustainability by Reusing Materials
- Ali didn’t think much about the environmental impact of technology infrastructure until she worked at ITRenew, which promotes the reuse of data center hardware.
- The demand for infrastructure is spurred by hyperscalers, like Google and Facebook.
- Open hardware is becoming the norm, maximizing the value and longevity of hardware through repurposing and reusing.
- Open hardware allows ITRenew to grow, buyers to get quality equipment, and hyperscalers to improve their sustainability.
- A circular economy is about deferring new manufacturing from a carbon perspective without sacrificing quality. Tune in to the full episode to hear Ali’s analogy about reusing materials using second-hand cars.
[10:23] Data Center Energy Consumption
- Other concerns for investing in sustainability include electricity, materials, and water consumption.
- The primary resource for Internet usage is electricity.
- The rapid growth of technology and the Internet leads to colossal consumption of our natural resources and poses a significant threat to the environment.
- The total amount of data center energy consumption ranges from 200 terawatt-hours to 500 terawatts-hours.
- Data centers are more efficient now, and the world is transitioning to cloud computing.
[14:48] Three Steps for Greener Data Centers
- While data centers have made impressive steps in reducing their carbon impact, there are three steps they can take to become greener.
- The first step is to offset all the carbon they emit through electricity generation.
- Next, match all electricity usage with 100% renewables. Although this is a good step, it may not be sufficient, as data centers still require a local electricity grid.
- Lastly, use 100% clean energy through power-purchase agreements to gain renewable electricity sources.
- Governments can encourage companies to move in this direction.
[16:33] Switching to Efficient Infrastructures
David Mytton: “Improvements in their facilities mean that they are able to invest in efficiencies.”
- Many companies are moving in this direction to save money and commit to social and corporate responsibility. Scale still matters in this situation.
- With sustainability in mind, these companies benefit from their scale and can invest in new programs.
- Investing in efficient infrastructure may not be affordable for smaller companies.
- The general public doesn’t see the internet's sustainability issues. Renewables also don’t match consumption.
- With increasing consumer demand, we should consider how energy consumption affects sustainability measures and carbon footprint reduction.
David: “Until consumers truly understand the impact of their online habits, they won’t be able to make decisions about where they’re buying things or which companies they’re going to host their email with.”
[21:36] End-User Energy Consumption
- Streaming videos using 4G is more intensive than in Wi-Fi. 4G makes use of radio signals, which require more energy.
- With the development of 5G, energy consumption will increase initially up to 20 times. But with more improvements on the way, the industry expects less energy consumption.
- The efficiency of older technologies is offset by the increased use of newer, more power-hungry technologies.
- 5G is rolling out gradually. This will allow better latency and increased speed, while also being more energy efficient in the long run.
- It is now in everyone's interest to reduce carbon footprint as climate change damages physical infrastructure.
[23:51] Electricity Usage in Data Centers
- According to Jonathan Koomey, the Internet is a significant sustainability bargain.
- The 1% of the world’s electricity that data centers take up is a good use of that 1%. IT technologies help make the other 99% more efficient.
- Despite inflation in computer instances, the growth in electricity usage by data centers has remained basically flat throughout the years.
- It shows that data center efficiency has increased along with the rapid increase in output.
[25:56] Efficiency and Innovation
Jonathan Koomey: “The higher efficiency allows them to deliver more services more cheaply. So you’re getting the higher efficiency, but you’re also getting a better business outcome.”
- Shifting users to empty computer capacity also benefits bigger companies in ways beyond the economies of scale.
- The increase in demand for computing services vs. the increase in efficiency will affect whether data centers will increase their power consumption.
- While the growth of Internet infrastructure leads to increased energy use, innovations will help us meet goals in investing in sustainability.
- Substituting smarts for parts and dematerialization are other ways to make less stuff and reduce carbon footprints.
Grace: “Once again, innovation helps drive scale… and scale fuels innovation.”
[30:19] Building a Sustainable Society
Jonathan: “I’m hopeful that the industry will use its influence to help the rest of the economy become more efficient because those are the two big levers... to transform the global society to become, ultimately, zero emissions.”
- We’re making significant progress. But there’s still a lot to be done through innovation, regulation, and measured changes in social behavior.
- Silicon Valley can start investing in sustainability through efficient materials, hardware recycling, reduction in water usage, and greener energy sources.
- Investing in sustainability goes beyond climate change. We need to actively seek to create a sustainable society.
- An inclusive economy with equity and global prosperity is key to sustainability.
- Bringing everybody online sustainably creates a positive societal impact and benefits community development.
Ali: “I think there’s a huge opportunity to harness the powerful potential [of the technology industry to drive inclusion and access]. There is no industry that’s more capable of innovation.”
Three reasons why you should listen to this episode:
- Learn about the areas of focus in infrastructure sustainability.
- Find out how companies can switch to more efficient energy sources and infrastructures.
- Discover the critical roles that consumers and innovations play in investing in sustainability.
About Our Guests
Ali Fenn is the president at ITRenew. For two decades now, she has been building tech companies, shifting focus on infrastructure sustainability. With an economics degree from Yale and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics, she has raised capital, managed operations, and led business initiatives in various teams worldwide.
Ali is an executor driven by technology innovation, open source, circular economy, creating new markets, delivering financial returns, and social impact.
David Mytton is a former tech entrepreneur and co-founder of console.dev, the best tool for developers. Currently, he is studying sustainable computing at the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London. He specifically studies how much energy, produced by burning fossil fuels, the computing industry uses.
With his expertise in tech, startups, and environmental technology, David has appeared on various podcasts and speaking engagements and published several academic papers.
Jonathan Koomey is a researcher, author, and entrepreneur. His work spans climate solutions, critical thinking skills, and the environmental effects of information technology. He is known for describing a long-term trend in computing and energy efficiency called “Koomey’s Law.”
Jonathan regularly holds a short course called “Data Center Essentials for Executives: A Beginner's Guide.” With his work, he has been named as 1 of 10 innovators changing the game for Internet infrastructure by GigaOm, and as 1 of 15 superstars of sustainable IT by CIO Magazine/Infoworld.
- Connect with Ali Fenn: ITRenew Website I LinkedIn | Twitter
- Connect with David Mytton: David’s Website I LinkedIn I Email
- Connect with Jonathan Koomey: Jonathan’s Website | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter
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