Dematerialization of a product to a web service –

After setting up Google Alerts for some keywords like “green webhosting” and “sustainable web design”, I have been getting significant hits. Most of these are re-hashing of the idea of “green webhosts” by various bloggers. It is significant – people clearly are thinking “green” and “web” in the same timeframe. The other query, “sustainable web design” has less traffic. There have been a few hits, but most are off topic.

However, found a site today that shows the current rush to dematerialize physical products and services by putting them on the web. Like other examples, it seems to be assumed that converting a physical page to a virtual one is automatically more “green”. (they also own

Press release for opt-out:

This site provides a business search, coupled with an opt-out for paper delivery of yellow pages.

Currently, this opt-out option seems to be limited to the Seattle area, but it’s not hard to imagine a general opt-out system emerging in a few years, similar to options not to receive printed billing statements.

But the question I’m considering in this blog is the costs of the virtual, and how designers for virtual products, games, and web pages can design for sustainability.

So, I sent a query to the site – did they know how much in energy and resource their initiative saved? Thus far, no response. What do they base their claim of sustainability on? Have the made the same mistake as everyone else – data and Internet resources are somehow “weightless”?

UPDATE: I haven’t heard back yet (March 2012), so I’m assuming that my question made the site operators nervous. It’s similar to when I post sustainability questions in any Second Life or other virtual world forum – no response. It’s the classic tech-utopian vision colliding with ever-rising energy and resource use – and a fear that the virtual world may not be so green, after all.

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