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Stepping towards a Sustainable Internet

7 Feb 2024

The IAB’s new Environmental Impacts of Internet Technology (E-Impact) program will hold its first virtual interim meeting over two slots on February 15th and 16th 2024. These interim meetings are open to participation, and we invite all interested community members to join, participate, and contribute.

There can be no question that the impact of Internet technologies has been overwhelmingly positive for sustainability. Internet technologies have been instrumental in enabling electronic commerce, providing alternatives to travel (videoconferencing), enabling remote and hybrid work, etc. But these gains do not come for free, since the Internet runs on systems that require energy and raw materials to manufacture and operate. While the environmental benefits of the Internet may certainly outweigh this use of resources in many cases, it is incumbent on the Internet industry to ensure that this use of resources is minimized and optimized.

In order to take a deeper look at the impacts, the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) held a virtual Environmental Impacts of Internet Technology (E-Impact) workshop in December 2022 to discuss the Internet’s environmental impact, discuss the evolving needs of industry, and identify areas for improvements and future work. The participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds that included academia, network operators, vendors and civil society. The report on the workshop and the position papers covering a wide variety of topics from the workshop are available on the workshop page.

IAB workshop on environmental impacts

The IAB takes interest in a number of architectural areas that require a long-term perspective and may involve various activities and deliverables. The IAB organizes their work in these areas in the form of programs to enable long-term activities scoped and managed by the IAB, while allowing individuals with the required expertise who are not IAB members to participate and contribute to the work.  In August 2023, the IAB created a new technical program to address the Environmental Impacts of Internet Technology (E-Impact).

The E-Impact Program is a venue for discussing the environmental impacts and sustainability of Internet technology. Within this scope, the program looks at trends, issues, improvement opportunities, ideas, best practices, and subsequent direction of work related to Internet technology, architecture, and operations, including visibility and efficiency on energy and other environmentally-impacting attributes. In particular, the group focuses on Internet architecture's role in these topics.  Topics discussed in the program that are ready for standardization or research are undertaken at Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) or Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) respectively. The program is open to all interested participants. Anyone can subscribe to the program’s discussion email list, and its meetings are publicly announced.

The program kicked off with an introductory hybrid meeting during the IETF 118 (Prague) in November 2023. The goal of this meeting was to provide a brief introduction to the wider community regarding some of the topics that were of interest to program participants.

The bulk of the work in the program will be done on the mailing list, and over a series of virtual interim meetings at a regular cadence with potential hybrid meetings as needed. The first virtual interim meeting for the program will be held over two slots on February 15th and 16th 2024. There was a solicitation of topics for this meeting and many interesting discussion topics were submitted. There were two clusters of topics that seemed to be ready for discussion at the interim meeting. They are:

  • A set of topics related to measurements, benchmarking, transparency, carbon-aware routing and visibility that can be driven towards engineering work. 
  • A set of topics related to existing drafts that are already in various stages of progress in the IETF and the IRTF. The focus is to map this space and understand the relationships between the drafts as well as identify any gaps that need to be resolved.

Again, these interim meetings are open to participation, and we invite all interested community members to join, participate, and contribute. For details about how to join the interim meeting sessions, visit the meeting pages on the IETF Datatracker pages. (Please note that an IETF Datatracker account is required to join the sessions, and can be created in advance.) 

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