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Dear Pablo: What is the contribution to climate change by TreeHugger.com for each page view?
If the reverse-psychology of this article's title got you please keep reading, you will find it interesting. Past articles have explored the environmental impact of the internet and the environmental benefits of shopping online but this time I am taking our favorite sustainability media outlet under the microscope. Let's see what we can find!The Impact Of The Servers
I was happy to learn that the web hosting company that TreeHugger.com uses has a strong focus on the environment. Not only have they made strides in reducing their energy use, provide a healthy working environment, and support an "Earth-Friendly Employee Culture," but they also offset all of their greenhouse gas emissions. Pair.com works with Renewable Choice Energy to become "carbon neutral" by funding projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world. Pair.com also provides all of its employees with an annual TerraPass offset certificate for their personal vehicles.
Of course the offset non-believers in our midst will comment that offsets are akin to buying absolutions. In the words of Kevin Smith, the head of the Transnational Institute's Carbon Trade Watch "The idea of neutralizing emissions is basically nonsense. Once people burn fossil fuels and it's out there in the atmosphere, you can't take that back. It's there as part of the problem, and there's nothing that anyone can do to magically make these emissions disappear." To appease such naysayers I will include the impact of the servers.
According to one source the average pageview results in 500 milligrams (0.5 grams) of CO2 emissions. At more than 10 million page views per month the emissions associated with TreeHugger.com's server use can be estimated at 60 metric tons of CO2 per year.
The Impact Of The Writers
Of course TreeHugger.com could not exist without its writers. Each year, Treehugger.com posts over 10,000 original articles, slide shows, interviews, etc. (10,530 in 2009). If we assume that the average piece takes an hour to put together (some take less, others take much, much longer) this means 10,530 hours of computer use. Since most of us are too hip and mobile to still use desktop computers we can assume that all TreeHugger.com writers use smaller, more energy efficient laptop computers. At about 30 watts per computer it takes 0.03 kilowatt-hours per article, or 315.9 kWh per year. Since the greenhouse gas emissions depend on the local grid mix of coal, hydro, nuclear, and other sources the total annual greenhouse gas emissions from writing TreeHugger.com's articles is around 190 kg. Divide that by the number of page views and we get 0.0016 grams per page view.
The Impact Of The Readers
Based on the average amount of time that a reader spends on one of our pages the greenhouse gas emission contribution from readers' computers is around 0.6 grams. Based on TreeHugger.com's annual number of page views this equals 72 metric tons per year.
So there you have it. For each page that you view on TreeHugger.com you are contributing 0.5 grams for the use of the server, 0.0016 grams for the writers' computer use, and 0.6 grams for your own computer use. This estimated 1.1 grams per page view may not seem like much, it does add up to over 132 tons over the year. This is equivalent to about 26 average passenger vehicles. Of course, 45% is offset by the web hosting company and I bet that a portion of our readers are also offsetting their own electricity use. Now that you know what impact your reading a story on TreeHugger.com online has, be sure to remember this when you're surfing elsewhere on the web. For the companies that don't have eco-conscious web servers, the impact will be higher. And if you're trying to cut back on your web usage, be sure to consider which is a more valuable use of your time and CO2 footprint: reading about sustainability here on TreeHugger or playing Mob Wars on Facebook.
Pablo Päster is a weekly columnist for TreeHugger.com, an experienced greenhouse gas engineer and the Senior Environmental Program Manager at Hara Software. Send your questions to Pablo(at)TreeHugger.com or submit the via this form and connect to his RSS feed.
More Resource On The Impact Of The Interwebs:
What Is The Environmental Impact Of The Internet
Why Data Center Efficiency Matters - Because The Internet Is THIS BIG
The Footprint Of Gmail: How Much Energy Would Deleting Emails Save?
Read Online Or In Print: What's The Greener Way To Get Your News