Which Companies Are Greening the Internet?

Graphic credit: Greenpeace

When reading or opining online about the energy consumed by homes, cars and power providers, it’s easy to overlook the amount of electricity the Internet itself requires.

According to a new Greenpeace report, the Web would rank sixth in energy demand if it were a country. The amount of Internet data out there is expected to have tripled from 2012 to 2017. In that time, the Web population is expected to grow from 2.3 billion in 2012 to 3.6 billion people by 2017, or half of the world’s population.

With that sort of virtual volume on deck, Web companies have to become greener.

In Clicking Clean: How Companies Are Creating the Green Internet, Greenpeace researchers make it clear which companies are leading the movement and which ones are still relying on fossil fuels.

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Greenpeace evaluated the energy choices of 19 familiar Internet companies and more than 300 of their data centers. Five of those firms have announced a goal of powering their operations with 100-perecent renewable energy.

“Apple, Facebook and Google are powering our online lives with clean energy, and building a greener offline world for everyone in the process,” Gary Cook, a Greenpeace senior IT analyst, said in a statement. “These companies have proven over the past 24 months that wind and solar energy are ready and waiting to power the internet, and the rest of our economy, with clean electricity.”

While all three companies are known for the renewable energy investments of recent years, Greenpeace particularly singled out Apple, the only company to earn a 100-percent score on its four-category Clean Energy Index. The company powers facilities like its Reno, NV data center with all clean energy, despite the local utility’s resource mix being more than half comprised of natural gas. The same goes Apple’s facility in Maiden, N.C., where 57 percent of the local mix is made up of nuclear energy.

Apple’s North Carolina data center, which is home to the iCloud service, is powered by the largest privately owned solar installation in the country. Amazon and eBay, on the other hand, received 15 and 6 percent, respectively, on their indexes.

“Apple’s rapid shift to renewable energy over the past 24 months has made it clear why it’s one of the world’s most innovative and popular companies,” Cook said. “By continuing to buy dirty energy, Amazon Web Services not only can’t seem to keep up with Apple, but is dragging much of the internet down with it.” 

In the organization’s own words, here is what Greenpeace wants all “major” Internet companies to do:

Make a long-term commitment to become 100-percent renewably powered.

Commit to transparency on IT performance and consumption of resources, including the source of electricity, to enable customers, investors, and stakeholders to measure progress toward that goal.

Develop a strategy for increasing their supply of renewable energy, through a mixture of procurement, investment, and corporate advocacy to both electricity suppliers and government decision-makers.



Google to Power Entire Data Center With Wind

Microsoft, Apple, Google Power Data Centers with Renewable Energy

Facebook to Power Data Center With Wind


Hungry for Data: LEED Targets Data Centers

Corey Enck
Director of Rating System Development, LEED
U.S. Green Building Council

Quick: How did you get to our blog? Did you click on a link via Twitter, or see the article pop up in your RSS reader? However you arrived here, you probably used around 180 KB of data to load this webpage.

Though somewhat intangible, and certainly not of upmost concern to most of us and our rapid-fire browsing, data requires huge amounts of energy to process. Data centers power our appetite for data at all hours of the day. They are the physical embodiments of our everyday data usage – using Google or Yahoo! to search the most recent March Madness upset, posting photos of a recent vacation to Facebook, loading an app on the new iPad 3 – and like every other structure, they can (and should) be built green.

Facebook’s LEED-certified data center in Prineville, NC. Source: Flickr, IntelFreePress

For that reason, we’ve adapted LEED for New Construction and LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance to the particular needs of data centers to ensure that new construction and facility retrofits can successfully pursue and apply LEED.

What makes data centers such a unique project type? Data centers have very few occupants, and they are huge energy users: a data center can use as much energy as a small town (really). Whereas a typical building is designed to meet heating and cooling needs for occupant comfort, a data center must provide massive cooling power for its servers. Water use is also a key target area for data centers, if the facility utilizes water for cooling. These specific building needs are built in to the data center adaption for LEED.

Recently, there’s been a surge of LEED-certified data centers: Among them, Facebook, Yahoo!, Internap and QTS. Facebook’s first energy efficient, LEED Gold data center in Prineville, Ore. uses 70 percent less water for cooling purposes than an average data center. Apple’s LEED Platinum data center in Maiden, NC, utilizes outside air cooling so that facility chillers can be turned off 75 percent of the time. All of these projects are leading the way in how we think about this project sector.

By bringing data centers into the suite of LEED rating systems, we’re removing barriers so that even more data facilities can participate in LEED and build sustainably. Read more about the adaptations for data centers and other market tracks, and be sure to weigh in on these changes to LEED in public comment, now open until Mar. 27.

Google Rules Greenpeace Cool IT Leaderboard


By advocating for renewable energy and adding it into its business infrastrucure, search engine giant Google was able to overtake Cisco atop Greenpeace’s Cool IT Leaderboard 5. The environmental organization’s assessment of tech companies measures their clean-energy innovation and actions to combat climate change. In 2010, the top spot went to Cisco.

Google scored particularly well for its political advocacy work and for sourcing renewable energy to its infrastructure, according to Greenpeace. The Cool IT Leaderboard evaluates global IT companies on their leadership in the fight to stop climate change along with their technological know-how and political influence to bring about a clean energy revolution.

Greenpeace Cool IT leaderboard Google

image via Greenpeace

“Google’s commitment to transparency, new investments in clean energy solutions, and success in powering a significant percentage of its operations with renewable energy is what we expect to see from leading IT companies,” Greenpeace International IT analyst Gary Cook said in a statement. ”Given their rapidly increasing energy demand, these companies must work to change the rules needed to drive greater investments in clean technology and renewable energy deployment.”

Because so many tech companies now rely on data centers to power their cloud applications, there is a growing demand for energy, much of which is coming from “dirty energy” sources like coal and diesel. In the latest ranking, Greenpeace said Google, Cisco and Dell all stood out for sourcing more than 20 percent renewable energy for their global operations.