Does the iPad launch forecast a “cloudy” future for IT emissions reductions?

July 6, 2010

As IT industry analysts label 2010 the “Year of the Cloud”, a new report by Greenpeace shows how the launch of quintessential cloud computing devices like the Apple iPad raises fresh questions about how the internet is powered and whether the IT sector will continue to fuel climate change by increasing demand for dirty coal power. But the report also shows how IT can become a transformative force by advocating for solutions that increase renewable energy use and reduce global warming pollution.


In “Make IT Green” Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change” (1) Greenpeace builds on previous industry research (2) to show that cloud-based computing, which allows devices like the iPad to access online services like social networks and video streaming, has potentially a much larger carbon footprint than previously estimated. The report finds that at current growth rates, data centers and telecommunication networks, the two key components of the cloud, will consume about 1,963 billion kilowatts hours of electricity in 2020, more than triple their current consumption and over half the current electricity consumption of the United States == or more than France, Germany, Canada and Brazil == combined. (3) “As the cloud grows, the IT industry’s appetite for energy will only increase, so the industry must become strong advocates for renewable energy solutions and strong laws that cut global warming pollution,” said Casey Harrell, Greenpeace International campaigner. “IT companies like Microsoft, Google, and IBM are now in powerful positions at the local, national, and international levels to influence policies that will allow them to grow responsibly in a way that will decouple their economic growth from rising greenhouse gas emissions.” Facebook recently announced the construction of its own data center in Prineville, Oregon that will run primarily on coal. By choosing electric utility PacifiCorp as its power provider, a utility that sources the majority of its power from coal-fired power stations, Facebook missed a chance to incentivize the use of renewable energy and instead reinforced the coal industry's grip on the nation’s power grid. (4)   “The ICT sector holds many of the keys to reaching our climate goals by innovating solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy efficiency,” Harrell said. “Technologies that enable smart grids, zero emissions buildings, and more efficient transport systems are central to efforts to combat climate change. But to given the projected size of the cloud at current pace, IT must also get their own carbon footprint under control.” (5) Greenpeace is calling for the biggest IT companies to support government policies that give priority grid access for renewable sources of energy and that increase the supply of zero carbon energy sources like wind and solar. IT companies should also support economy-wide climate and energy policy in the US that peak emissions by 2015 and then precipitously reduces them to as close to zero as possible by 2050.


VVPR info: Daniel Kessler, Greenpeace press officer, + 1 510 501 1779 ; Casey Harrell,Greenpeace International Campaigner, + 1 415 307 3382,

Notes: Note to editors: Make IT Green” Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change” is available for download at 1. The Make IT Green report builds on the seminal analysis of the Smart 2020 Report (2008) which detailed the growing carbon footprint of data centers and telecommunication networks. To make the data of the report more accessible as an instrument to evaluate the projected impact of the cloud on electricity demand and their relationship to energy policies, the Smart 2020 analysis has been de-aggregated to show overall electricity consumption.

 2. The 2020 Report provides carbon footprint figures in MtCO2e as a combination of two sources of emissions: indirect emissions from electricity use (scope 2) and indirect emissions from upstream production (scope 3), or embodied carbon. To show electricity or energy use emissions separately, a correction factor [Scope 2/ (Scope 2+3)] was applied. This correction factor for Scope 2 is derived from the information provided on global internet footprint in the Smart 2020 Report, which includes PCs in addition to telecoms and data centers. The Smart 2020 Report is available at
. 3. National electricity consumption data obtained from the United States Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook, 2007 data.
 4. To challenge Facebook to drop coal and use clean energy, Greenpeace began an advocacy page on Facebook. As of today, more than 300,000 people have signed one of the Facebook groups (in English and Spanish).
 5. The ICT sector’s abilities to lead and to innovate are the reasons Greenpeace began its Cool IT Campaign in 2009. The campaign uses direct company engagement and public engagement to provide pressure on the ICT industry to put forward solutions to achieve economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions reductions and to be strong advocates for policies that combat climate change and increase the use of renewable energy. For more information visit

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