Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the greenest IT company of them all?
According to the newest Greenpeace Click Clean report, Apple, Google, and Facebook, along with the data center company Switch, are spearheading the greening of the IT sector, at least when it comes to their energy sources. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that even as nearly 20 internet companies are committing to 100% renewable energy, rapid growth in the IT sector is happening in places which have “little to no renewable energy options,” such as Asia, as well as US markets such as Virginia, which is also somewhat of a renewable energy desert. So while a shift to a cleaner, greener internet is moving forward in some locations, in other locations it is a lot more difficult to achieve.
With the IT sector accounting for nearly 7% of global electricity consumption, it’s no small potatoes, and considering the rapid rate at which internet platforms, services, and devices are being adopted worldwide, shifting the energy sources for the operations of those companies over to renewables will remain a challenge in the years to come. According to this latest dispatch from Greenpeace, global internet traffic is anticipated to triple by 2020, with some 4 billion users embracing the digital age by then, which makes greening the IT space a key component in a more sustainable future.
The 2017 version of the Greenpeace Clicking Clean: Who Is Winning the Race to Build a Green Internet? report offers a great overview of the issue, along with a wealth of details about many of our favorite (or not so favorite) IT companies. The full report is quite a read at 90+ pages, but consumers and interested stakeholders can quickly get a good idea of how some of the bigger internet and IT players are doing at the companion ClickClean.org site.
“How we build and power our quickly growing global digital infrastructure is rapidly becoming central to the question of whether we will be able to transition to renewable energy in time to avoid dangerous climate change. If data centers and other digital infrastructure are 100% renewably powered, our increasing reliance on the internet can actually accelerate our transition to a renewably powered economy. But, if our growing digital infrastructure is built in the opposite direction, locking us into a dramatic increase in the demand for electricity from coal and other dirty sources of energy that are changing our planet’s climate, it will be far more costly and take an unnecessarily longer time to reach a renewably powered economy.” – Clicking Clean
Some of the key findings of the report:
- “Video streaming is a tremendous driver of data demand, with 63% of global internet traffic in 2015, and is projected to reach 80% by 2020.”
- “The transition to the cloud could in fact increase the demand for coal and other fossil fuels despite significant gains in energy efficiency and adoption of a commitment to 100% renewable energy because of the dramatic growth in new data center construction by cloud and colocation companies” in areas with low percentages of renewable energy available.
- “Faced with a lack of access to renewables in monopoly markets, there are increasing signs that some companies are resorting to status quo shortcuts to reach their claims of being renewably powered,” which can increase demand for dirty energy and undermine the momentum of the industry leaders who aren’t cutting corners in their own efforts.
- “The continued lack of transparency by many companies regarding their energy demand and the supply of electricity powering their data centers remains a significant threat to the sector’s long-term sustainability.”
- “Apple retains its leadership spot for the third year in a row among platform operators. Both Apple and Google continue to lead the sector in matching their growth with an equivalent or larger supply of renewable energy,” and both use their influence to push utilities, governments, and other vendors in the IT sector to increase renewables.
- “Switch, new to the Clicking Clean report this year, scored among the highest for any class of company and is the definitive leader among colocation operators for its efforts to transition its data center fleet to renewables as fast as possible through a combination of renewable energy procurement and aggressive advocacy.”
- “Without key policy changes, the rapid growth of the internet in East Asia,” via rapidly expanding companies such as Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, and Naver, “will likely be powered by coal and other dirty sources of electricity.”
“We must see East Asian internet companies exhibiting the will to commit to 100 percent renewable energy, particularly as they expand to markets around the world. Leading IT companies in the United States have already shown that the majority of the industry recognizes that clean power is both good for the environment and good for business. East Asian companies must step up to embrace that reality as well.” – Jude Lee, Greenpeace East Asia Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner
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