How Green Is Your Tweet?

I recently read a blog post discussing the environmental impact of using and storing your average email. The blog linked to an interesting article by Harper’s that discusses the levels of energy usage consumed by Google’s storage facilities. It’s something I’d not really considered before, and it got me thinking a lot, especially about the use of popular micro-blogging site Twitter.

Since the beginning of this year, Twitter’s traffic has increased 27 fold, thanks in part to celebrity endorsements from the likes of Stephen Fry and Shaq. That’s, quite simply, an insane increase. I know that from this point forward, Twitter may not see a continual surge in popularity quite like that. But it’s still a lot of people sending a lot of (150 character limited) messages, and it’s steadily increasing.

I’m a bit of a serial tweeter, you see. I get it. I understand why it works. You’re continually connected to your own tailored, non-stop news feed from friends, strangers, interesting people, service providers, broadcasters, weirdos, funny people, thoughtful people…You can throw any old question out to the ‘Twitterverse’ and get answers within seconds.

using twitter for mobile

You might not always get the answer you’re looking for, but it’s still nice to think that someone somewhere is connecting with you. Isn’t it?

And of course businesses are keen to exploit the ability to directly connect with such a large potential customer base. In fact, I now know that Twitter has well and truly arrived, as a couple of days ago I found that I was being followed by a spammer. Do X and you’ll make $Y (insert random 4 figure salary) in a day! I think not.

But I digress – yes, I know why people love and loathe twitter. Yes, I understand why, in our information-thirsty society, it works. But what I’m now considering is the environmental impact of using sites such as Twitter. I know it’s not like we’re cutting down forests to make thousands of tiny pieces of paper to send inane memos to each other.

But as far as I know, with each tweet you build up a history of tweets that are left to float around in the ether of cyberspace. So if Melinda from One Green Generation’s post is anything to go by, these messages are being stored somewhere.

And those storage devices need energy to keep them running, and keep them cool. And the more popularity Twitter gains, the more messages are sent, the more storage and energy needs to be used. It’s not like everybody tweets and then deletes.

So basically, I imagine that there’s a significant amount of fossil fuel being burnt to store our tweets. And our Twitpics, don’t forget. I use the word ‘guess’ because it’s very difficult to find any definitive information on this subject. I suppose it’s not really a point that’s considered by your average tweeter and perhaps not something that Twitter themselves have really considered.

I’m sure the energy bills themselves are a consideration, but what of clean energy? There are so many eco-advocates that use Twitter to provide ‘green feeds’, to the point that it’s almost a little (dare I say it?) ironic?

I hope I’m bringing this small but significant issue into the limelight a little. Perhaps I ought to tweet the founders of Twitter and ask them if they themselves are making moves towards ‘greener tweets’?

In the meantime, I’ll keep tweeting in the hope that I’ll find some answers. Oh, again, the irony!

8 replies on “How Green Is Your Tweet?”

I’ve never thought of it that way before. We’re in such a craze to move paperless that we haven’t considered the effects on the environment going social media-ist will cause. I’ll have to be more mindful of that in the future. Thanks for the insight!

Two interesting reads are Jacques Ellul’s The Meaning of a City and The Technological Society. In them, he posits that mankind basically went wrong when it decided agrarian life wasn’t good enough, and began developing cities. His Biblical worldview wouldn’t make many Christians happy, but not because it violates Scripture.

Rather, people just get pissy when told that their lavish creature comforts are responsible for the destruction of the earth. I’m no quack, but I find it difficult to argue with Ellul’s rationale.


I haven’t read what you’re referring to but I would agree that leaving an agrarian life has had a lot of negative consequences – processed fast foods and obesity through a sedentary lifestyle just to name two.

I’ve caught more than a fair share of press concerning companies doing their part and making the switch to “eco-friendly” data centers and/or network infrastructure (i.e. gear and network appliances consuming less energy and running more efficiently). These ‘Green’ networks are supposed to be running lean and mean, and supplied power by facilities operating on “zero carbon emission” or “renewable hydro.”

I have wondered whether ‘Green’ measures like this will take a backseat to the financial crisis and deemed too costly. I applaud companies that can look past the current financial crisis, and make a commitment to the environment. Environmental sustainability and reputations are intextricably linked, and how companies approach reducing their environmental footprint will play an integral part in demonstrating to Web audiences that business can act responsibly and are committed to the “Green” cause.


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