Image from an EvoSwitch data center in the Netherlands powered by green energy.

On Sunday, the New York Times launched a new series called “The Cloud Factories” that examines the massive data centers that store the data that makes up the internet, and the effects they have on the environment.

The series kicked off with “Power, Pollution and the Internet,” a long piece explaining the large and growing energy demand created by data centers. Part II of the series focused on Microsoft’s data center in Quincy, Washington, and the company’s willingness to needlessly use large amounts of power and run dirty diesel generators that belie the sleek, green modern image that Microsoft is trying to create for itself.

Both stories have run on the paper's front page, and the burst of attention couldn’t come at a more important time. As the Times notes:

“Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times.”

That power demand is only growing, and right now technology companies are hungrily swallowing up brown energy – mostly coal and nuclear power – to fuel the growth.

Greenpeace has recognised the importance of the issue for the last three years: Our supporters led a campaign that convinced Facebook to pledge to power its data centers with renewable energy in 2011. This year, Greenpeace International worked with Apple fans to convince the company to commit to 100 % renewable, coal-free data centers.

The Times published a companion piece from Greenpeace International senior analyst, Gary Cook, alongside the series. One thing the Times hasn’t covered as much yet is the fact that internet companies and data center operators do have a choice: they can invest in clean, renewable energy, and use their influence to make sure utilities provide it to them. Google and Facebook are already doing this, and Greenpeace and our supporters are campaigning to get Amazon and Microsoft to join them.

As Gary wrote,

If the I.T. sector as a whole embraced the challenge and used its buying power, influence and ability to innovate to transform the status quo of the energy sector, the growing cloud could become the engine that drives the switch from coal to renewable energy, a shift that will be good for tech companies’ bottom line and good for all of our futures.

Stay tuned to the Times for more coverage, and to Greenpeace for ways that you can influence the companies you use every day – like Amazon and Microsoft – to go green.