Cloud computing: maybe, maybe not greener

Stuart Hibbert, CEO of icomplete.com, a UK software company, was recently quoted as saying of cloud computing “There’s a massive allowance of time that can be saved in terms of nobody enjoys the daily commute into an office, it wastes a hell of a lot of time and also the fuel associated with that. So a lot of it’s very eco-friendly in that respect.”

GallonDaily cautions against such blanket statements. Historically, telecommuting (working from home) has certainly been considered to be an environmentally responsible approach to reducing urban pollution from commuting but recently some of us are beginning to have doubts. Working from home may include:

  • more coffee made in home coffee makers, probably somewhat less efficient than commercial equipment.
  • heating or cooling the whole house, instead of lowering/raising the thermostat to reduce energy use during the 8+ hours that you would have been in the office, likely with no offsetting reduction in office energy use because you still have a desk there.
  • cooking of lunch in a household kitchen, something that likely uses significantly more energy than eating a lunch cooked in a commercial kitchen or eating cold or lightly reheated sandwiches that you purchased or brought from home.
  • buying additional equipment such as printers and scanners that would be one shared among many if you had been able to access the office equipment.

Commuters are certainly using transportation energy to get to the office, though those who use public transportation are generally using much less than those who drive a car without carpooling. Our hunch is that home workers who go to the office just once or twice a week are more likely to take the car, for convenience, than those who commute every day and get used to the transit system.

It is too early to say whether telecommuting (or cloud computing from home) or transit commuting is the environmentally preferred option, and it may not be possible to make a blanket statement covering all situations, but we caution proponents of cloud computing that the advertising claim that it is eco-friendly is almost certainly unproven and therefore illegal in all countries with environmental truth in advertising regulations (which includes Canada, the US, and the UK).

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