Carr: How Green Are All Your Gadgets?

Last Updated Jan 13, 2009 4:31 PM EST

  • Carr: How Green Are All Your Gadgets?The Find: If you're a tech enthusiast who looks down on the green credentials of the so-called "dead tree media," Nicholas Carr suggests you reevaluate exactly how environmentally friendly your plugged in lifestyle is.
  • The Source: Rough Type, the blog of Nicholas Carr.
The Takeaway: Tech commentator and author Carr recently made a stir by asking if Google is making us stupid. Now he has another question for us to consider: are all our gizmos and Googling really better for the environment than old-fashioned snail mail, newspapers and magazines?

On first glance you'd say of course they are. Think how many trees have been saved, but the fatal flaw in this reasoning is the many hours we spend "dicking around online, oblivious of the electricity lighting up our screen, heating our chip, and powering and cooling the data centers we're connected to." And the amount of electricity this consumes (and thus the amount of CO2 it emits) is substantial.

Exactly how substantial is a matter for discussion. The Sunday Times (UK) this week reported the results of a study by a Harvard research fellow named Alex Wissner-Gross which concludes that two Google searches generates 14g of CO2 or about the equivalent of boiling a kettle. Carr questions these findings both because Wissner-Gross has a commercial interest in a company that tracks electrical use and because adding up the numbers for all our Google searches would produces a truly gigantic quantity of CO2. Google has also disputed the findings. (For more on the controversy, check out our U.K. blog, Sterling Performance.) But whatever the exact figure, Carr concludes,

the next time you see some lunkhead smugly bloviating about "dead tree media," ask him how much electricity his computers, smartphones, and other networked gadgets consumed that day.
The Question: Should we be more concerned about the environmental impact of all our commercial tech, and if we decide to get concerned what can we do about it?
(Image of electricity meter by Clearly Ambiguous, CC 2.0)
  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.