Environmental impact

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By relying on energy produced from fossil fuels like this coal-fired power plant in Texas, the Wikimedia projects contribute to global warming.

This page aims at discussing, and eventually reducing, the environmental impact of the Wikimedia movement.

What is the environmental impact of the Wikimedia movement and why does it matter?[edit]

The environmental impact of the Wikimedia movement is bigger than you think. From running the Wikipedia servers, over heating, cooling and lighting the Wikimedia Foundation's and its movement affiliates' offices, and flying volunteer contributors across the globe for Wikimania and other events, to finally displaying any Wikipedia article on a reader's device – all this requires a significant amount of energy, the production of which contributes to global warming.

We have a powerful brand and can use it to show green leadership. Given the Wikimedia Movement's outsized influence as a brand and customer of data center services, there is a lot of potential for it to play a highly positive role in this space. This is why the environmental impact of the Wikimedia movement matters a lot.

How are we doing?[edit]

Barely passing: "D" score for Wikipedia in Greenpeace USA's 2015 "Click Green Scorecard".[1]

Overall, the Wikimedia movement does not have a massive energy footprint compared to other high-traffic sites like Google or Facebook. Part of this may be due to efforts by Wikipedia to be efficient, and part of it is just a nature of the pages that it is serving – mostly text, with little video. Also, the Wikimedia movement employs relatively few people.

As to energy sources, the Wikimedia movement relies heavily on carbon-intensive energy sources, with a couple of positive exceptions. On the good side, the Wikimedia Foundation has been open about this and made the first steps towards a renewable energy commitment.

A view of some Wikimedia servers.

Energy usage and energy sources[edit]

Data centers[edit]

The Wikimedia Foundation's servers are spread out in four colocation data centers in Virginia, Texas and San Francisco in the United States, and Amsterdam in Europe. As of May 2016, the servers use 222 kW, summing up to about 2 GWh of electrical energy per year. For comparison: An average household in the United States uses 11 MWh/year,[2] the average for Germany is 3 MWh/year.

Only the few servers in Amsterdam run on renewable energy, the other use different conventional energy mixes. Overall, just 9% of Wikimedia Foundation data centers' energy comes from renewable sources, with the rest split evenly between coal, gas and nuclear power (34%, 28%, and 28%, respectively) [1]. The bulk of the Wikimedia movement's electricity demand is in Virginia and Texas, which unfortunately have both very fossil fuel heavy grids.

Server name Data center location Provider Date
opened
Average
energy
consumption
(kW)
Energy sources Carbon footprint (CO2/year) Renewable
option
and cost
eqiad Ashburn, VA
20146-20149
USA
Equinix (Website) February 2011 May 2016: 130

May 2015: 152

32% coal
20% natural gas
25% nuclear
17% renewable[3]

1,040,000 lb = 520 short tons = 470 metric tons

= 0.32 * 130 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * 2.1 lb CO2/kWh for coal[4]
+ 0.20 * 130 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * 1.22lb CO2/kWh for nat gas[4]
+ 0.25 * 130 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * 0 lb CO2/kWh for nuclear
+ 0.17 * 130 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * 0 lb CO2/kWh for renewable

?
codfw Carrollton, TX
75007
USA
CyrusOne (Website) May 2014 May 2016: 77

May 2015: 70

23% coal
56% natural gas
6% nuclear
1% hydro/biomass/solar/other
14% wind (Oncor/Ercot)

790,000 lb = 400 short tons = 360 metric tons

= 0.23 * 77 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * 2.1 lb CO2/kWh for coal[4]
+ 0.56 * 77 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * 1.22lb CO2/kWh for nat gas[4]
+ 0.06 * 77 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * 0 lb CO2/kWh for nuclear
+ 0.15 * 77 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * 0 lb CO2/kWh for renewables

?
esams Haarlem
2031 BE
Netherlands
EvoSwitch (Website) December 2008 May 2016: < 10

May 2015: 10

"a combination of wind power, hydro and biomass"[5]

0 n.a.
ulsfo San Francisco, CA
94124
USA
UnitedLayer (Website) June 2012 May 2016: < 5

May 2015: < 5

25% natural gas
23% nuclear
30% renewable
6% hydro
17% unspecified (PG&E)[6]

13,000 lb = 6.7 short tons = 6.1 metric tons (+ unspecified)

= 0.00 * 5 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * 2.1 lb CO2/kWh for coal[4]
+ 0.25 * 5 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * 1.22lb CO2/kWh for nat gas[4]
+ 0.23 * 5 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * 0 lb CO2/kWh for nuclear
+ 0.36 * 5 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * 0 lb CO2/kWh for hydro/renewable
+ 0.17 * 5 kW * 8765.76 hr/yr * ? lb CO2/kWh for unspecified

?

To do:

  • update carbon footprint of servers whenever new data become available
  • determine carbon footprint of unspecified portion of utility grid power in San Francisco

Travel and events[edit]

Thousands of Wikimedians use commercial aviation to travel to events every year; this is a significant source of carbon emissions. A rough estimate of the carbon emissions generated by air travel for Wikimania is 1,874 metric tons of CO2,[7] which is more than twice the CO2 generated by running the servers.

  • evaluate estimate of carbon emissions generated by air travel for Wikimania and other conferences
  • discuss mitigation options

Offices[edit]

A look at the ventilation system of the Wikimedia Foundation's offices in San Francisco.

Wikimedia Foundation has an office in San Francisco and around 250 employees,[8] about half of which are remote workers. Wikimedia Deutschland has an office in Berlin for 77 people[9] that is supplied with renewable energy.[10] Other movement organizations may have offices as well. It is not currently known what their energy usage or sources are.

Organization name Office location Number of on-site employees Yearly energy consumption Energy sources Carbon footprint (CO2/year) Renewable option and cost
Wikimedia Foundation San Francisco, USA 2016: 127 (out of 254 total) 2015: 383 MWh (estimate) 25% natural gas

23% nuclear
30% renewable
6% hydro
17% unspecified
(PG&E)[6]

120,000 lb = 58 short tons = 53 metric tons (+ unspecified)

= 0.25 * 383000 kWh * 1.22lb CO2/kWh for nat gas[4]
+ 0.23 * 383000 kWh * 0 lb CO2/kWh for nuclear
+ 0.36 * 383000 kWh * 0 lb CO2/kWh for renewables
+ 0.17 * 383000 kWh * ? lb CO2/kWh for unspecified

PG&E Solar Choice:

~ $ 900/month

Wikimedia Deutschland Berlin, Germany 2017: 88 2016: 52 MWh 55% hydro

46% mixed renewable (Naturstrom 2015)

0 n.a.
other Wikimedia organizations (various) ? ? ? ? ?

To do:

  • gather information regarding energy usage of other offices
  • estimate carbon footprint of commuters
  • update carbon footprint of offices whenever new data become available
  • determine carbon footprint of unspecified portion of utility grid power in San Francisco

Transparency[edit]

The Wikimedia foundation is being somewhat transparent about its environmental impact as can be seen above. As it has reported key figures to Greenpeace USA for their 2015 "Click Green Scorecard" report, it is considered an "energy transparency leader" in the internet sector.[11]

Commitment[edit]

The Wikimedia Foundation stated that "environmental impact of the facility (cooling efficiency, reclaimed water, etc)" was an "important consideration" for selecting the site for its most recent data center. However, the Wikimedia Foundation has made no firm commitment to work on reducing its overall environmental impact.

But...[edit]

Isn't the Wikimedia movement's environmental impact negligible?[edit]

Some have expressed since the Wikimedia movement's energy use is significantly smaller than that of other popular internet destinations, we should not treat our environmental impact as a problem. But with global warming being an imminent threat to our civilization, every organization should look for ways to play its part in saving the planet.

Doesn't Wikipedia replace printed books? And doesn't Wikipedia help enough by educating its readers about environmental topics?[edit]

Some community members have expressed that Wikipedia might have an overall positive impact on the environment since it replaces printed encyclopaedias and educates it users about environmental issues. However, such indirect effects are difficult to calculate and even if they exist, it still is a good idea to reduce Wikipedia's negative impact on the environment.

What can we do?[edit]

Be even more transparent[edit]

The Wikimedia Foundation could issue an annual energy transparency report, similar to the one it already publishes on privacy issues, that offers the public information on how much electricity it uses, what kind of sources the power comes from, and what its carbon footprint is. Much of the required data has already been produced in the past. This would set an example for the internet industry.

  • Current status:
  • Key people:

Switch to green energy[edit]

The Wikimedia Foundation could work with its colocation vendors to let them know that it is interested in procuring renewable energy where possible, and exploring options to do so.

  • Current status: As of February 2017, the Wikimedia Foundation is considering opening a new server location in Southeast Asia, and considering sustainability as a procurement factor.
  • Key people: Pamela Swaby, Procurement Manager, Wikimedia Foundation

Use less energy and produce less waste[edit]

Using less energy means using more power-efficient equipment, like energy efficient buildings, traveling less, and server capacity and location planning.[12] Waste reduction includes recycling more old equipment and used paper, for example.

  • Current status:
  • Key people:

Make a green energy commitment[edit]

The Wikimedia Foundation can make a long-term commitment to power with 100% renewable energy. While that's definitely not something that can be done tomorrow or even (most likely) in the next couple of years, setting an aspirational goal for 100% renewable energy sends a very strong signal to vendors and the market that there is customer demand for renewable energy. Setting a goal publicly helps show the world what the Movement's intentions are, and good things often come from that. A draft commitment has been submitted to the board in 2015.

  • Current status: A draft renewable energy commitment has been sent to the Wikimedia Foundation for review in August 2015. The Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees is currently (as of February 2017) discussing it.
  • Key people: User:Raystorm (María Sefidari), Vice Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees

Have a green energy investment strategy[edit]

When setting up its endowment fund, the Wikimedia Foundation could make investments in renewable energy a priority and/or rule out investments in non-renewable energy.

A literature review shows that «there is indeed clear empirical evidence for a positive correlation between corporate social and financial performance»[13] and returns of USA environmental funds in 2001–2009 have been on par with non-ethical funds.[14]

  • Current status: The investment policy of the Wikimedia Endowment, which was adopted by the endowment's Advisory Board in January 2017, does not reflect sustainability issues. As of February 2017, there are discussions to change that.
  • Key people: Marc Brent, Endowment Director, Wikimedia Foundation

What would be the benefit?[edit]

In order to be able to compare the goal of reducing our environmental impact with the other goals and and values of the movement, we need to understand the benefit of improving on how we are doing. As a best-case estimate we can assume that we can assume that on all measures introduced above – energy use, energy sources, transparency, and commitment – we achieve the best possible outcome. What would be the actual measurable benefit of that? This will allow us to estimate how much effort in order to achieve these goals is warranted.

  • To do: estimate benefit of individual proposals

Show your support[edit]

Add your signature

As a community member, you can show your support for a reduction of the Movement's environmental impact here.

Oppose[edit]


History and further reading[edit]

Previous discussions and initiatives[edit]

Gnom presenting this initiative at the 2016 Wikimedia Conference.

About this initiative[edit]

  • Greenpeace USA published its "Click Clean Scorecard" report in in June 2015. Upon Greenpeace's request, the Wikimedia Foundation's communications team had confidentially provided data about the energy consumption of the Wikimedia servers.
  • The current initiative was started by Aubrey in July 2015 in a wikimedia-l thread titled "Environmental impact of Wikipedia". This page was created by Gnom in July 2015.
  • Initial talks with Wikimedia Foundation staff (including C-level staff and board members) took place at Wikimania in July 2015.
  • A discussion about the energy consumption of the Wikimedia servers titled "Reducing the environmental impact of the Wikimedia movement" took place on the wikitech-l mailing list in March 2016. A discussion about this initiative took place in the Facebook group "Wikimedia Weekly" in April 2016. Also, the initiative was presented at the Wikimedia Conference in April 2016. There will also be a poster at Wikimania 2016.
  • Information regarding the energy consumption of the Wikimedia servers was first published in April 2016 with the help of the Wikimedia Foundation's communications team.

Next steps[edit]

  • Currently, we are looking into the feasibility and cost of procuring renewable energy for the Wikimedia server sites in the United States. Any help with this is greatly appreciated!
  • Also, the Wikimedia Foundation is investigating the possibility of adopting of a sustainable investment strategy for the Wikimedia endowment.

References[edit]

  1. a b Greenpeace USA: Click Clean Scorecard: Key Findings & Scores Explained, 2015, page 43.
  2. Inside Energy: How Much Electricity Do You Use Each Month?
  3. "Green Data Centers". www.equinix.com. Retrieved 2016-04-07. 
  4. a b c d e f g "How much carbon dioxide is produced per kilowatthour when generating electricity with fossil fuels? - FAQ - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)". Retrieved 2017-01-16. 
  5. "Environment". www.evoswitch.com. Retrieved 2016-04-06. 
  6. a b "Clean Energy Solutions". www.pge.com. Retrieved 2016-04-07. 
  7. See talk page.
  8. https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Template:STAFF-COUNT
  9. Wikimedia Deutschland staff web page. Retrieved Jul 10 2015.
  10. "Wikimedia oder: Bildung für jedermann", energiezukunft no. 15, p. n5.
  11. Greenpeace USA: Click Clean Scorecard: Key Findings & Scores Explained, 2015, page 11.
  12. https://ganglia.wikimedia.org/latest/ shows the cluster CPUs are 9% used on average, but that's only part of the story.
  13. doi:10.1007/s10551-008-9894-x
  14. doi:10.1007/s10551-011-0865-2