As the principal and co-founding owner of a Portland-based, sustainable Web host, I wanted to thank Sustainable Business Oregon for bringing light to an important topic. Since we first opened our Portland data facility in 2005, we have understood that electricity is the single greatest resource we use. As a result, it is extremely important for us where the energy comes from, as well as the resulting environmental impact is we create through its use.
The Pacific Northwest is unique. As a result of the close proximity of nature — volcanoes and mountains, rivers and oceans, massive forests and extensive agriculture — to populated areas, my sense is there is a greater awareness of environmental responsibility here than other parts of the U.S. Looking at how the Northwest’s energy generation profile has evolved, first with mostly hydro, then phasing out coal and nuclear, and finally so many new and renewable energy facilities coming on-line (wind, geothermal, solar, and wave), it is a reminder that the local energy industry has an equal role to play in protecting our corner of the world and is working to live up to that challenge.
I cannot think of a better place than the Pacific Northwest to serve as a model for developing a sustainable energy economy. It pays tribute to our shared commitment to protect our environmental resources and also show that all it takes are a few advancements, gradually but consistently, to effect positive change and convert us away from reliance on harmful and toxic energy sources.
I’d like to see the use of renewable power become a standard for any high-demand energy user, starting with datacenters and Web hosts, and continuing through all industries and market segments. If renewable power options aren’t available from a utility in the local market, then a high demand user should in the minimum opt for purchasing renewable energy credits or carbon credits. It’s better than doing nothing, and again, such a decision would serve as an example to others to follow suit. Just think of the different kind of press a corporation like Facebook could have received if they had chosen to buy local wind energy, instead of the “standard” 57% coal power mix from a California power utility.
Choosing renewable energy has seen many additional benefits for our business that the article didn’t address. For example, by signing onto PGE’s Clean Wind program, we began understanding of the many other ways we could begin greening our business. It led us to adopt a sustainability program, undergo third-party sustainability assessing so we could plot our energy efficiency with meaningful metrics, and conduct our own research and development to build our own server hardware and further minimize energy usage. All of these resulted from us having started down the path. Furthermore, sharing our experiences and educating our clients and vendors about sustainability principles has helped us create a supportive community of commerce between our customers and suppliers alike. The result of all of this is a business model that saw consistent, increased growth during the recent economic recession, and which is now propelling new growth even faster than we thought possible. None of this is rocket science; these are all principles of sustainable business that can be adopted by any business that cares to take the time to learn how, and as a result, make their company and its influence on the local economy that much greener.
Whether the wind blows through eastern Oregon’s turbine farms all the time or not, or whether the sun graces solar cells on rooftops in Portland for just 12 hours a day, all renewable energy sources help replenish the continually increasing demand on available energy. If new technology needs to be developed to store excess energy produced at peak output, so that it may be used when there is no wind or when it is night, then that is an engineering challenge to be solved. Let us not look negatively at the current status of renewable power and what it can or cannot do to determine its long-term role in solving our energy demand needs; let us instead look at it all as an example of what we might all accomplish through support of and participation in these programs.