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

Thu Apr 21, 2011 9:30am EDT

A group of the Internet’s most recognized brands — from Facebook to Apple to Twitter to Amazon — 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, Google, Yahoo and 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 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.

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