Earth Day is upon us (April 22nd, 2014)



What are companies doing with their data up in the clouds?

If it weren’t for organizations like Greenpeace, a lot of crimes against our decaying environment in the digital realm would go unnoticed. As it is, though, we need these environmental watchdogs to keep big corporations accountable for the size of their footprints.

As we spend increasingly more time in online communities, sending email and shopping, streaming movies and tweeting, the question of data storage has become more and more apparent. So how do the largest online companies measure up?

Robert McMillan’s recent WIRED article sheds light on why certain companies have failed the go green test as discovered by Greenpeace’s in-depth report. Insight from Greenpeace analyst Gary Cook helps to explain some of these companies’ eco-transgressions.

Greenpeace releases reports like this one to lift the veil of how big businesses operate in the virtual world, encouraging them to comply with current energy practices. While internet data hubs are greener than ever before, recent investigations have revealed sub-par efforts from two huge companies: Amazon and Twitter.

According to the findings, only about 15% of Amazon’s web traffic is powered by green energy, giving the company an F-rating for its commitment to using renewable sources.

So how can companies improve their marks? By seeking out alternatives, like wind power, and filing environmental reports that disclose their data centre usage annually. Though Twitter doesn’t build its own data centres, the social media platform scored an F grade in energy efficiency and its lack of disclosure regarding energy usage.

“We have not seen any real evidence that they are managing their electricity supply chain,” says Cook. “If we’re going to make the internet a green platform, it can’t just be the Googles and the Apples and the Facebooks.” Since exposing their shortcomings in Greenpeace’s 2011 report, all three of those companies have made efforts to ensure renewable energy is used to power their dense data centres. 

Though Microsoft has fallen in line since the 2011 protests at their Seattle offices, going carbon neutral and embracing wind power, these same efforts had little impact on Amazon. According to Cook, the company’s Oregon utility Umatilla Electric Cooperative is still trying to coerce the state into loosening the environmental restrictions already in place. “We haven’t seen a change in Amazon,” says Cook. “If Amazon was motivated, you’d have a very different scenario unfolding in Oregon.”

What do you think of Greenpeace’s report? Are you surprised by which companies scored an A+? Do you think there should be more laws governing how online companies power their data centres?

Read the full report on clicking clean to see how other companies measure up in their data sources.

Picture from: