No, obviously we do not. But that was an assumption made last week by some bloggers who covered our report, How Dirty Is Your Data?, which called out a number of top cloud computing companies that have fast-growing electricity needs for their lack of transparency and bad energy choices. The report also cites the positive contributions of the cloud and lists recommendations for how IT companies can green their act.
International media coverage ranged from business and news reports in Forbes, TIME, Reuters, NBC, Yahoo! News and The Guardian to tech media, such as CrunchGear and CNET, to green blogs like Treehugger. One of the most thorough reports got a full page in the San Jose Mercury News, the tech sector’s hometown newspaper.
But media attention is not the end-game. The real end-game is to influence the choices that companies make about how they source electricity as the cloud grows and data centers expand, which requires more and more power to keep our status updates, tweets, photos, and video streaming live. Better choices are highlighted in the report through examples of major tech brands disclosing carbon or energy data (Akamai), investing in renewable energy (Google), or setting clear intent to power their infrastructure cleanly (Yahoo!).
Increasingly, the tech world is paying attention to the issue of energy. It was a hot topic of conversation at Green:Net, the San Francisco based tech conference where we released and presented our report. But the sector’s attention to energy issues must be more comprehensive. To ensure a green future for IT, we need companies to commit to:
1. Increase transparency regarding energy use and carbon emissions,
2. Prioritize locations with clean sources of energy for infrastructure siting,
3. Invest directly in renewable energy.
4. Advocate for policies that get clean energy onto the grid, particularly in places where operations are located.
This is a young industry, but the growth rate of data center energy use is rapid, 12% per year. Cloud companies have mainly put their eggs in the energy efficiency basket, as power is a major expenditure and conserving energy is good for the bottom line. You will never hear us say that efficiency isn’t important, but what we’re after in our report is an awareness and acknowledgement that the type of energy used to power the cloud’s expansion has an impact on the sector’s ability to be green.
Companies can choose to take responsibility for their dirty energy footprint by choosing to invest in renewable energy and political advocacy. As Martin LaMonica, author of CNET’s Green Tech blog, writes:
Internet companies have a real vested interest in energy, but from an economic point of view, their main concern is getting adequate and low-cost power. From a policy point of view, though, Internet companies as a whole have not shown the willingness to expend the political capital or have the expertise to influence policymakers on alternatives to fossil fuels.
Why Is Transparency Such a Big Deal?
Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT interviewed by Yahoo! News about our report, comments:
Where I've got some concern about Greenpeace's conclusions here is mainly in the fact that many, if not most, of the companies whose operations it was evaluating tend to be extremely closed-mouth about exactly what kind of equipment is in their data center, how it is being utilized and allocated, what sort of energy-efficient technologies they are using, and so on.
Our point exactly. An objective of our evaluation was to enhance transparency about IT’s energy use, and push the sector to justify its choices by opening them up to the public. The estimations in our report are based on the best available information about the capacity and energy needs of existing and slated cloud infrastructure.
In order to truly measure the impact that cloud computing has on dirty energy demand, or determine the regional and global impacts of data center expansion, the veil of secrecy must be lifted.
At Greenpeace we are trying to lead by example by setting a clean energy procurement policy for our own small IT footprint.
Greenpeace will work in partnership with cloud companies that wish to have a serious conversation about how to power their growth with 100% safe and renewable energy.