In this post on Sustainable Living SE a rough estimate was calculated for the carbon footprint of the Stack Exchange platform. It says that in 2018 their hosting company QTS used 32% renewable energy. Although this is higher than the average generated Watt in the US, it's a long way from the (almost) carbon neutral servers of Google, Apple and Facebook.

Are there any steps being taking by Stack Exchange to become carbon neutral? Is this a goal for the Stack Exchange organization? Or is there anything preventing the Stack Exchange company from making the platform carbon neutral? The amount of servers used for production isn't large, but still they could talk to their hosting provider and try to convince them to increase the amount of renewable energy faster. Also they could consider green hosting alternatives that are already using 100% renewable energy.

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    We get send bikes and we should all peddle to keep the site running. You have to sprint to cast a down vote ... – rene Jul 24 at 7:23
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    Money. It's usually money that prevents the world from becoming utopia. – Mast Jul 24 at 7:33
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    @rene and then it's like that episode of Black Mirror: If you peddle hard/fast/far enough, you get your one shot chance at eternal fame: Becoming a moderator ;) But in all seriousness, THelper, I like your question. I don't think I've ever seen/read anything about SE and being carbon neutral, so this might be a fun one to learn about (though I'm not sure how much time people will have to actually answer this!) – Tinkeringbell Jul 24 at 7:57
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    Its worth considering that all those companies could in theory buy their own utilities, build datacenters to fit their needs and so on. They're massive. SE would likely fit in someone's basement, if they had a fat enough internet pipe. – Journeyman Geek Jul 24 at 8:16
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    @JourneymanGeek I have a shed available and a 1200 baud dial-up modem, That 1200 is the up load and download rate! – rene Jul 24 at 8:26
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    I said fat pipe. At least 56k. – Journeyman Geek Jul 24 at 8:41
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    Based on the estimate you linked to, it seems it would only cost a few hundred dollars a year if carbon offsets were an acceptable solution (~24k kg -> ~53k lbs -> ~$6/1k lbs -> total ~$318). This is a modest sum for the group of users that this would matter to to raise and donate. – sinaraheneba Jul 24 at 8:55
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    PHP developers, obviously. – Martin James Jul 24 at 10:33
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    Wow, 9 downvotes already. Do any of the downvoters care to comment why? – THelper Jul 24 at 18:09

I'm merely a moderator, but its likely a simple matter of scale. SE has datacenters in New York and one other place I am sure someone will remind me of eventually.

Basically SE's primary site, as of 2016 looks something like...

enter image description here
via Nick Craver's blog

Lets compare this to one of google's sites here in singapore

enter image description here
That's one of three. Its a regional hub. Google or Apple or AWS can literally design the entire datacenter from power, to cooling to specialised machines. SE buys servers from dell.

One of these companies can probably go "Hey! I would like someone to supply me artisan, hand crafted power, made from entirely sustainable sources".

The other has a setup that could fit into a bedroom, and is probably a small client for even a medium sized datacenter, even if they have outsized reach for their size as far as the tech/developer community goes.

Practically - finding a balance of trustworthyness, reliability and environmental friendliness is hard. I'll plant a tree to offset my (probably significant) contribution to SE's carbon footprint.

  • I realize that it's much easier for large companies to do this, but there are a lot of 100% green hosting providers so that shouldn't be a big problem. I suspect it's more a matter of different priorities of the Stack Exchange organization, although I do wonder about your last comment on the reliability of green hosting providers. Perhaps it's hard to find one that has good service and uptime. BTW +1 for planting a tree :-) – THelper Jul 24 at 8:51
  • And well familiarity/local-ness. I imagine a data center in Iceland would be very eco-friendly with sustainable cooling and power, but difficult for folks to get to. SE data centers tended to be near places they have a presence in – Journeyman Geek Jul 24 at 8:59
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    I think it's "Colorado" that's the "failover" site... – Jon Clements Jul 24 at 10:46
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    You actually drove to the Google datacenter in Singapore to grab that photo? – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Jul 24 at 14:00
  • No, I got it off their website. – Journeyman Geek Jul 24 at 14:00

Stack Exchange is powered (metaphorically) by its users. A huge number of people who use this site are doing so using computers powered by fossil fuels. However, assuming you meant only the servers being carbon neutral, then it comes down to money. Fundamentally, there's nothing preventing the company from moving to a host which is entirely carbon neutral other than nothing being in it for them.

Unfortunately, in many places, datacenters run on fossil fuels are simply cheaper to operate. The fact that Stack Exchange is desperately trying to change its public image and putting intrusive ads on the website show that they do not have a surplus of money that they can toss at the environment. I would love if they went carbon neutral too, but I just can't see it happening any time soon.

It would be better to promote clean energy in general, rather than trying to get one individual site to do so.

  • Thanks for your answer. I indeed meant only the SE servers. You could be right that green hosting is more expensive but I wonder if that's really true and if so for how long. I do disagree with your last comment. If Stack Exchange were to promote 100% green energy many of its users could be 'inspired' to follow their example. – THelper Jul 24 at 8:56

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