One of the debates surrounding virtual worlds is whether or not they decrease people’s "carbon footprint" or environmental impact.
On the one hand, some argue that virtual worlds are greener ways for people to meet and collaborate, versus having to travel physically to each other using planes or cars. On the other hand, virtual worlds — and the internet writ large — uses planetary resources in the form of electricity consumption and heat generation. One oft linked blog post by Nicholas Carr argues that "your average Second Life avatar consumes about as much electricity as your average Brazilian."
Much of this energy use is not from your personal computer, it’s from the thousands of networked servers that support complex massively-multiplayer online environments like Second Life. So reducing the energy consumption and heat generated by these thousands of servers could have a dramatic impact on the environment.
Enter IBM, which has been investing $1 billion to develop more environmentally-friendly server farms. To demonstrate their findings, IBM has created the "Virtual Green Data Center" in Second Life ( Click here to teleport.) You can tour and interact with a 3D simulation of a server center that uses video, interactive displays, and text to describe the ways that servers can be made more energy efficient.
I took a quick tour this morning and it like another innovative use of virtual world technology by IBM — one that helps the planet in the process. Thumbs up.