Founded by environmental activists, GreenNet has been providing email and internet services to charities, NGOs, campaigners, activists and individuals since before the web existed! In everything we do we make an effort to operate in a way that minimises our environmental impact. This includes many aspects of our operations.
We have no company vehicles. We travel to meetings with clients and to our datacentre by bicycle, public transport and the occasional taxi when necessary. Half of our staff regularly commute to the office by bicycle, others use public transport.
Our office is located in a building that is powered by electricity generated from renewable sources provided by Good Energy. All energy and water use is monitored for maximum efficiency and office and kitchen waste is recycled or composted in the community garden for minimum landfill disposal. Most of our systems are virtual but where paper is used, it is all from 100% recycled sources.
Our primary servers are located in a London datacentre which buys its electricity from Scottish Power Renewables, generated from British on-shore and off-shore wind as well as some tidal and wave power sources.
The datacentre is one of the most energy efficient we have encountered, having a PUE of 1.3.
We also have some additional server space in Canada and Germany. Both of these facilities are powered by renewably generated electricity as well.
We buy the most energy efficient servers available, and use them in a way that minimises the power consumed. Our main server infrastructure uses less than 1500 Watts to host many hundreds of websites and thousands of email accounts.
Office Equipment and Supplies
We purchase new, reliable hardware for our essential, core infrastructure in order to provide a constant, dependable service. However, for non-critical equipment in our office, we are very good at re-using old equipment that other organisations would have otherwise discarded. We like to give equipment a new life by repairing and upgrading kit, rather than throwing things away and buying new. Indeed, if you are looking for a particularly rare, old computer cable, we may have one in a box in our office!
We use recycled or sustainably sourced paper for printing and promotional materials, and only print literature when absolutely necessary. We stock the office with fair trade coffee and tea, and we bank with the Co-operative Bank.
There are some things we have less control over. Our broadband internet service, which allows us to provide internet connections to people all over the UK, depends mostly upon BT infrastructure located in hundreds of telephone exchanges across the country. We have virtually no control over decisions made about that broadband infrastructure and related electrical supply contracts. We provide our part of the broadband service, placing orders, supporting users and troubleshooting problems, from our offices, which we try to make as green as possible. We haven't yet managed to get all of BT Wholesale to switch completely to renewable power. But it would be good if everyone kept reminding them that they should!
The increasing number of computers, tablets, phones and gadgets in our lives means that more and more electricity needs to be produced to power all our devices, as well as the servers, databases and 'clouds' where our data is stored and backed up. While we are happy that our servers are powered by renewably generated electricity, we still think there is much room for improvement. Amongst electricity providers, top ethical marks tend to go to Good Energy and Ecotricity, since they are committed to investing their surplus income into the building of more renewable generation capacity in the UK. However, major datacentres require so much electricity that a price difference of a few pence per kWh will increase or decrease their expenses by thousands of pounds. Plus the dedicated green electricity suppliers don't currently seem to be focusing on contracts with such high-consumption businesses.
We are not aware of any major datacentres in the UK that currently are supplied by Good Energy or Ecotricity, but we hold out hope that eventually some major datacentres will realise that many individuals and organisations want their power bills to contribute directly to investment in renewables production, rather than polluting hydrocarbons or dangerous and overpriced nuclear generation.
At the same time, more and more electronic devices seem to be made to be used for a year or two, to be then discarded in favour of newer models, requiring more mineral and petroleum extraction to manufacture new devices. The old devices get chucked into landfills and their toxic chemicals and metals leach into soil and contaminate groundwater.
We don't have easy solutions to the big questions regarding the environmental sustainability of modern technologies, but we are doing what we can by participating in global networks of like-minded green techies so that together we can use technology to promote a fair, just and sustainable future through the use of internet and computer technologies.