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E-commerce helps the environment

IN AN increasingly ‘wired’ world one might expect energy consumption, and with it greenhouse gas emissions, to grow but studies suggest electronic commerce is environmentally friendly.

The US Center for Energy and Climate Solutions published a paper titled The Internet Economy and Global Warming which “looks at the way e-commerce may fundamentally shift the traditional relationship between energy use and economic growth, and how this historic shift may benefit our economy and our environment”.

According to the report, the use of e-commerce will benefit the environment by reducing the amount of energy and materials used by businesses while simultaneously increasing productivity.

Historically, economic growth has been linked to increased energy use and the subsequent production of greenhouse gas emissions but new technology-driven economic growth has caused no increased pollution in the US.

According to the CECS, current Internet business trends can reduce the demand for commercial space and its associated lighting, heating and cooling.

Because building construction is one of the economy’s most energy-intensive activities, it claims the energy saved in the US by virtual business will, by the year 2007, be the equivalent of ten power plants.

An increase in the number of home offices linked to the Internet not only means less need for office space but, according to the paper, the home office uses less energy and reduces automobile travel.

“The marginal increase of operating an office at home is substantially offset by the fact that houses use most of their energy whether someone is there or not,” the paper reported.

IBM has reduced its energy needs by more than 4 per cent since it introduced an alternative-workplace initiative where many employees gave up a traditional work space for a mobile one.

Although the paperless office is not yet realised, Boston Consulting Group claims that by 2003 the Internet will reduce net demand for paper by 2.7 million tons.

Paper production is energy intensive and consumes trees.

About 40 per cent of a news-paper’s production costs lie in paper, distribution and printing.

The Internet eliminates these cost challenges and electronic

editions have a definite economic and environmental advantage.

BCG projects Internet substitution will cut newsprint demand by 1.2 million tons by 2003.

Forrester Research predicts over the next five years the Internet will siphon US$27 billion – about 10 per cent of all advertising spending – away from traditional media.

Forrester predicts the Internet’s share of the classified market will reach 20 percent by 2003 – worth US$4.7 billion per year.

Email has already caused the US Postal Service’s business-to-business first class mail to drop by more than a third.

The US Commerce Department claims delivery and payment of bills over the Internet could save US$46 billion each year and could maximise the energy and environmental benefits of e-commerce by choosing the slowest delivery mode circumstances allowed.

Airfreight is faster but consumes more that six times the amount of fuel than truck delivery. However, both methods economically and environmentally better the round trip to the shops.

This makes running household errands over the Internet environmentally friendly.

What about the power used to drive the myriad of computers?

The CESC reports “the Internet itself is not a major energy user, largely because it draws heavily on existing communications and computing infrastructures”.

• Raphe Patmore is an executive director of Q Multimedium.

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