Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Carbon-Negative Internet: Kathy Brown

David Isenberg: We who run the Internet have a responsibility. We're responsible for about 2% of the carbon emissions put into the atmosphere. The airline industry is responsible for about 2%. We can not only use the Internet to reduce the total emissions by at least 2%, we can do a lot better than that. That's why this panel is called the Carbon-Negative Internet.

This is too important an issue to have factionalism. It's not about Bell heads versus Net heads any more when we're talking about the survival of life on the planet.


Kathy Brown works as Verizon's SVP for public policy development and corporate responsibility.

I don't even know what a Bell head is. I came to Verizon about five years ago. Before that, I spent my time at the Department of Commerce and the FCC working on the information superhighway. We did a lot of thinking about how we use the Internet to solve real problems, like hooking kids around the country up to the Net.

Before I came to Washington, I lived and worked in New York. My work there was all about energy. What we were struggling with then was how to conserve energy. As we go now into the new century, the issue now is our carbon footprint. My daughter sent me a photo of the Antarctic ice mass breaking in two to remind me what kind of car to buy.

How can we think about bringing down our energy usage so we're more efficient? It's amazing to me that ICT isn't part of the energy policy I'm hearing. We're not going to reach the kinds of efficiencies I think we can reach without high-speed broadband networks in our homes.

Back in the '90s, we talked about the productivity gains we could make with the Internet. We were able to produce amazing productivity with respect to almost anything. This technology, the Internet, and what was attached to it at the edges has caused us to rethink how we do things. The growth of broadband is a significant and fundamental change. I want to think about a way to frame this discussion so energy efficiency isn't something we wring our hands about. How can we bring it front and center?

2% of global carbon emissions have to do with our industry. We're all in a huge coalition right now. I want to concentrate on the other 98%. The notion that we can affect that 98% by a better use of broadband technologies and the Internet isn't something I hear a lot about. As we discuss efficiency in our homes, it's not up front in the discussion. We talk a lot about the various things we can do – fluorescent light bulbs, turning your thermostat down – but there's more we can do.

We sponsored a study looking at the major issues confronting our country and customers over the next 10 years. The American Consumer Institute found that the use of broadband networks can decrease our dependence on oil up to 11% over the next 10 years. That's worth thinking about.

Let's take the logical things first, the things we talk about all the time, like telecommuting and teleconferencing. We've talked about this forever, but we've basically walked away from it. Cisco's high-resolution telepresence product is amazing. I use it. It's a big screen. It's over high-speed lines. We use it to not get on an airplane. You overcome the human problem with videoconferencing. We're putting into the market right now a 20 up and 20 down product so you can have a virtual presence right in your office.

We see 1,751 pounds of emissions not dispersed because of telecommuting. Every time I don't go to India, the amount of jet fuel I'm saving allows me to use my telepresence technology twice a week for one year.

What about the e-conservation idea? Downloading music and books saves time and energy. Let's take CDs. It's plastic. It's a disc. There's a plastic jewel box. There's a wrapper. You have to go to the store to get and then you go home. What about books? The Kindle let's you just download it. No paper is consumed. Driving 20 miles to the store uses one gallon of gas. Shipping 100 products uses one tenth of a gallon because you aggregate them.

But there's so much more that we can do. Like Thomas Friedman says, you can't make a product greener without making it smarter. What does smart green growth really mean? There are a lot of small things that we can do. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, has installed FIOS as part of their smart green homes. The idea is for the whole community to bring down its usage.

What's Verizon doing beyond thinking these things? We're rated highest on our environmental practices. From lifecycle management and paperless billing to video conferencing with EDS and a huge experiment with fuel cell technology. It's an approach a telecommunications company is taking to figure out how to use this technology to deal with the issues we're all facing. The deployment of ubiquitous broadband must be part of the energy solution.

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