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Greenpeace Unveils Who’s Behind the Internet’s Dirty Power

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A group of the Internet’s most recognized brands — from Facebook to Apple (s AAPL) to Twitter to Amazon (s AMZN) — have received failing grades when it comes to using clean power for their web services, according to a new report unveiled by Greenpeace on Thursday at our Green:Net 2011 event. Greenpeace found that while a few companies like Akamai (s AKAM), Google (s GOOG), Yahoo (s YHOO) and IBM (s IBM) have been taking important steps towards clean power, overall, many web companies “are perpetuating our addiction to dirty energy technologies.”

Internet Companies That Passed (for Certain Areas)

Some of the 10 Internet companies included in the research report received high marks in three of the key areas Greenpeace tracked them on: transparency, infrastructure siting and mitigation. Content delivery company Akamai received a “B” (the highest mark given by Greenpeace in the report) for transparency, because it records its carbon emissions in “CO2 per megabytes of data delivered,” and Akamai is also developing a way to make that metric available for its customers.

Google also received a “B” for its mitigation strategy for the creation of Google Energy — its subsidiary that can buy and sell power on the wholesale markets — and also for its recent pledge to purchase wind power via Google Energy (Google also announced more news on this at Green:Net). IBM received a “B” grade for its mitigation strategy to reduce carbon emissions, and for its refusal to use offsets in that process. Yahoo received a “B” grade for its “infrastructure siting” for moving away from purchasing offsets and moving toward directly purchasing clean energy and energy efficiency. And Microsoft (s MSFT) received straight “C”s for addressing some key clean power issues, but not going above and beyond.

The Weak Grades

Beyond those few “B”grades, the bulk of Greenpeace’s marks for Internet companies on clean power were about as low as they could get. Twitter received straight “F”s for “a radio silence,” on information about its data centers, and for adding in more dirty power as it expands. Yikes.

Most of the companies received poor grades on transparency, as many of them see the location and size of their data centers as competitive, proprietary information. Yahoo and Facebook received “D”s for transparency, while Google and Amazon received “F”s. Greenpeace said:

“This veil of secrecy makes it nearly impossible to measure the actual benefits of cloud technologies or understand the extent to which IT’s growing need for electricity is increasing the use of dirty energy.”

Infrastructure siting was another hard area for the 10 companies. And Greenpeace found over half of the companies are relying on “coal for between 50 percent and 80 percent of their energy needs.” Amazon, Akamai and HP received “D”s for infrastructure siting, while Apple, Facebook and Twitter received “F”s.

The Problem

The reason Greenpeace is researching this issue is because data centers are now consuming more than three percent of the electricity in the U.S. and around two percent of the electricity worldwide. Those percentages are expected to grow significantly as more and more people connect to the Internet and as our devices become always-on.

Internet companies, with their strong consumer brands and significant balance sheets, have the opportunity to have a big effect on how utilities source their electricity. If companies like Google ask for clean energy from utilities — or even build their own clean power farms — then the web companies can go a long way towards providing both leadership for the industry and also for reducing their sizable energy footprints.

9 Responses to “Greenpeace Unveils Who’s Behind the Internet’s Dirty Power”

  1. The Greenpeace Cloud Power Report Card does not use quantitative and objective standards. The report does injury to the reputations of many fine firms that have worked hard to assist the nation in facing energy sufficiency and clean energy generation issues.

  2. Bob GreenPeace

    *sigh* you actually posted a link to a GreenPeace report? Must be a slow news day.

    I’m a crunchy liberal type, but will never give them another dime (I made that mistake when I was in college). There are so many other groups that are worthwhile and effectively use the donations and don’t waste them. A shockingly small percentage of GreenPeaces’s money goes towards environmental protection anymore, its fat cat dinners in Washington DC, etc.

    • Greenpeace SHOULD be concerned about it! Even though such operations account for 1% or possibly a little less of U.S. domestic energy consumption (rather than 3% like data centers), the fact that many of those growers use

      off-grid power production that is far less efficient… and produce more greenhouse-gas emissions

      increase their negative impact. Also, such growing operations are generally illegal and concealed (not always, but often), cannot be included in optimal load factor planning for power generation, with further negative impact.

      That quote came from the excellent URL you gave in your comment. The URL also contained a link to an official U.S. government document focused exclusively on power consumption and environmental impact of corporate as well as government DATA CENTERS, 2007 edition, with 233 pages of narrative, charts and forecasts! I didn’t confirm, but the report was yearly through 2007. GreenPeace could have used that as a primary, or at least supplemental source of annual data center energy usage. The government report is available free of charge!

      Thank you, Darrell Pratt, for providing such a useful link in your comment.

  3. So, when we buy an electric car, we can look forward to Greenpeace telling us to go back to my old Dodge pickup because it doesn’t burn coal?

    Greenpeace isn’t even worth considering as part of my compost heap.

  4. It’s Greenpeace. They have a history of giving misleading failing grades in order to generate publicity. How anyone could trust what they say, much less find it worth reporting on, is beyond me.

  5. Prof. Peabody

    I just don’t trust anything Greenpeace says anymore. Greenpeace is primarily a PR outfit now and has a very small staff. All of their recent “research” is suspect and much of it tends to be proven wrong a few weeks after they release it.

    They have a very specific agenda and use the research to further that agenda, and they don’t seem to be above “massaging” the data to make it fit either.