The New Climate Change Challengers

IT and climate change

Background - 10 May, 2010
The social, ecological and economic impact of climate change is inarguable, and while governments around the world should be working tirelessly to set the framework for global clean energy use, they remain mired in dialogue, rather than taking direct action.

Fortunately, there is another player ready to meet today's impending climate change challenge: the private sector. And one of the most specific and potentially powerful fighters is the Information Technology (IT) industry.

In 2009, Greenpeace launched the Cool IT Challenge, a three-fold call for IT companies to drive green energy innovation, champion more efficient operations, and by 2010, to seek green, renewable sources of power for the proliferation of data centers.

As massive server farms crop up around the world, we welcome their ability to meet our exponentially increasing digital demands -- but we now realize that this power comes at a dirty price. These data centers are overwhelmingly powered by coal-fired plants. Unhealthy emissions are surging in step with the IT cloud's expansion. This means that our data -- from our emails to our MP3s, from our streaming movies to our stored photo archives -- is dirty. But that can change.

We’re Done With Dirty Data

The IT sector is ideally positioned to take the lead in modeling renewable, clean energy adoption. Many standouts in the sector are already ramping up green power innovations, but we’re barely beginning to realize the true potential.

Greenpeace is energizing its challenge that IT companies become true Green IT champions. They have the awareness and the ability to minimize operational impacts, model true clean energy implementation, and mitigate climate change.

Why Influence IT?

They can play a definitive role in our realizing global greenhouse gas reduction goals, demanding creation of a renewable energy platforms and new efficiency standards that could slash emissions more than 15 percent by 2020.

Greening the Cloud

Cloud computing, for all its virtual advantages, relies on brick-and-mortar data storage infrastructure. Organizations may no longer need servers on site. Individuals can store unlimited media instead of filling up hard drives, but electricity consumption required to power the cloud is soaring. The overwhelming source is coal, but we -- as informed digital citizens -- have the power to demand IT move away from dirty energy, embracing renewables instead.

From work collaboration to music and movie digitalization, there’s no argument that cloud-computing has revolutionized how we interact and how we are entertained. And to meet our exponentially expanding appetite for cloud-based IT, global tech leaders including Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon are expanding cloud capacity at a breakneck pace.

But this speed comes at a steep environmental expense: Computing is in the cloud, the cloud is driven by data centers, and today, these data centers are overwhelmingly powered by dirty coal-fired plants.

Today’s IT leaders can change that coal-powered course. This year’s Greenpeace report scrutinizes the energy choices of 14 global IT leaders and illuminates ways they can instead invest in clean, renewable data-center energy options. That means Green IT -- and a data cloud that keeps the air clear.

Fossil Fuel Will Fight Back

Established energy companies benefit from inaction. At best they express interest in a slow transition; at worst they fight policies that might reduce demand for oil and coal.

We’re urging IT to break away from obsolete, dirty energy and instead embrace renewable energy innovations that better reflect their role at technological leaders. They can be the change agents we need to green the cloud, ready to match their IT innovation with energy leadership at the local, national, and international level.

Cool IT leaderboard

In May 2009, Greenpeace's Cool IT campaign published the first Cool IT Leaderboard, a scoring system that analyzes IT companies' contributions to achieving global greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 15 percent by 2020. The Leaderboard is updated annually to track the progress of the largest IT brands in three key areas:

  1. Efforts to offer economy-wide technological climate solutions that contribute to global greenhouse gas reductions;
  2. Initiatives to reduce their own global warming emissions;
  3. Active engagement in political advocacy and support for science-based climate and energy policies.

Greenpeace's IT Sector History

Greenpeace pushed the electronics industry to green its supply chains and evaluate electronics brands on toxic chemical elimination, e-waste producer responsibility, and climate change since 2005.

Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics has become an industry staple, steadily evaluating consumer electronics companies' policies and products across a range of environmental criteria.

Through toxic chemical testing, exposure of illegal e-waste exports, and promotion of greener alternatives, Greenpeace has catalyzed improvements to the environmental and health performance of companies like Apple, HP, Sony, Nokia, Philips, and others