2020 has presented a shift in many of our lives: the rise of virtual meetings. Conferences, team meetings, classroom education, even catching up with friends; a vast portion of our interactions have shifted to a digital medium over the last six months. While uncertainty may linger with how long our society will contend with COVID-19, we can all be sure that virtual meetings will remain integrated with our lives[1].

This increase is quite apparent when looking at the usage statistics for videoconferencing software: Microsoft Teams experienced about 560 million meeting minutes on March 12; this number grew to 900 million by March 16, then skyrocketed to 2.7 billion on March 31[2]. With this also came a significant reduction in our emissions by traveling for work and meetings.

Ong, Moors, and Sivaraman concluded that the emissions from virtual meetings are about 7% compared to an in-person meeting[3]. However, they also stipulated that these meetings still bear an energy and carbon cost. In 2015, Aslan et al. found an accurate estimate of 0.06 kWh/GB[4]; Gerry McGovern used their rate of change to extrapolate this to a present value of 0.015 kWh/GB[5]. With the meeting minutes usage noted above and assuming every participant required 1.5 Mbps[6] and 8 bits per byte, we may derive the following formula:

And after plugging in the variables, we can calculate the total kWh consumption on the three days in March:

Date Meeting Minutes Data Usage (GB) Energy (kWh)
March 12 ~560 million 6,300,000 94,500
March 16 900 million 16,875,000 151,875
March 31 2.7 billion 70,875,000 455,625
Total ~4.16 billion 46,800,000 702,000

 

The virtual meeting minutes on those three days consumed the annual equivalent of about 81 homes in Ontario[7]. When thinking about all the meetings that are taking place virtually across the globe, across all videoconferencing platforms, the exact number would be astounding. Even more so are the water consumption rates caused by data servers. For example, Google “requested, or was granted, more than 2.3 billion gallons of water for data centers in three different states[8].” The direct and indirect consumption by data servers is approximately 2.48 gallons of water per kWh[9]:

Date Meeting Minutes Data Usage (GB) Energy (kWh) Water (gallons)
March 12 ~560 million 6,300,000 94,500 234,360
March 16 900 million 16,875,000 151,875 376,650
March 31 2.7 billion 70,875,000 455,625 1,129,950
Total ~4.16 billion 46,800,000 702,000 1,740,960

The water consumption from these meetings could have filled an Olympic-sized swimming pool about 2.5 times[10] or satisfied the annual water needs for almost 65 people[11].

While we sorely need more people making environmentally conscious decisions, we cannot assume that an adaptation carries no cost. If there are any takeaways to be made from this analysis, it is that:

  • We must all be more attentive to how our lifestyles impact our world, including things that may seem as innocuous as a virtual meeting
  • We should be mindful of how we are spending our time. Make sure you have an agenda planned so everyone can be organized, and prioritize quality over quantity

Austin Krausert | MBA, BComm, ENV SP
Manager of Operations

 

[1] More corporate meetings to go virtual after success during pandemic – https://www.talentcanada.ca/more-corporate-meetings-to-go-virtual-after-success-during-pandemic/

[2] Remote work trend report: meetings – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/blog/2020/04/09/remote-work-trend-report-meetings/

[3] Comparison of the energy, carbon and time costs of videoconferencing and in-person meetings – http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.677.9075&rep=rep1&type=pdf

[4] Electricity Intensity of Internet Data Transmission – http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/842520/7/Aslan_et_al-2017-Journal_of_Industrial_Ecology%281%29.pdf

[5] Calculating the pollution effect of data – https://gerrymcgovern.com/calculating-the-pollution-effect-of-data/

[6] Prepare your organization’s network for Microsoft Teams – https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/prepare-network

[7] A closer look at household energy bills in Quebec and Ontario – https://www.ivey.uwo.ca/energycentre/blog/2019/06/a-closer-look-at-hydro-quebecs-electricity-price-advantage-over-ontario/#:~:text=According%20to%20Statistics%20Canada%2C%20the,of%20natural%20gas%20per%20month.

[8] The Secret Cost of Google’s Data Centers: Billions of Gallons of Water to Cool Servers – https://time.com/5814276/google-data-centers-water/

[9] Data Centers, Digital Lifestyles and Water Use – https://www.watercalculator.org/footprint/data-centers-water-use/

[10] Measurements for an Olympic Size Swimming Pool – https://www.livestrong.com/article/350103-measurements-for-an-olympic-size-swimming-pool/

[11] Water Consumption in Canadian Homes – https://danamark.com/resources/water-consumption-in-canadian-homes/#:~:text=How%20much%20water%3F,consumption%2C%20or%20about%20234%20bottles

1 Comment

  1. Kimberly

    This is so informative and puts a delicate but firm perspective on how much we as a species should be more attentive to our consumption and the impact it creates. I agree if something that seems as innocuous as videoconferencing can create this much of an impact, when our world is running at full force the stats are stifling. The water usage from March 16-31 was a 20.7% increase! Which is a spectacular shock. One wouldn’t think that data servers would need so much resources although makes sense when further delved into.

    An insightful read! Thank you

    Reply

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