Who is leading on renewable energy among large data center operators?
There are those who are talking about it and those who are doing it. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL), Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) and data center newcomer Switch are taking some of the greatest strides towards 100 percent renewable energy, says a report just out by Greenpeace USA.
But Clicking Clean: Who is Winning the Race to Build a Green Internet?, which outlines the energy footprints of large data center operators and nearly 70 of the most popular websites and applications also finds that some companies are better at just talking the talk – with little evidence of action. They include Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX), Amazon Web Services or Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Samsung, which it says are lagging behind.
“Amazon continues to talk a good game on renewables but is keeping its customers in the dark on its energy decisions. This is concerning, particularly as Amazon expands into markets served by dirty energy,” said Greenpeace USA Senior IT Analyst, Gary Cook.
Netflix Inc. has one of the largest data footprints of the companies profiled, accounting for one third of internet traffic in North America and contributing significantly to the worldwide data demand from video streaming.
In 2015 the company announced that it intended to fully offset its carbon footprint, but “a closer examination reveals it is likely turning to carbon offsets or unbundled renewable energy credits, which do little to increase renewable energy investment,” says the report.
"Like Apple, Facebook, and Google, Netflix is one of the biggest drivers of the online world and has a critical say in how it is powered. Netflix must embrace the responsibility to make sure its growth is powered by renewables, not fossil fuels and it must show its leadership here,” Mr. Cook added.
Nearly 20 IT companies have now committed to 100 percent renewable energy, according to Greenpeace, which has benchmarked the energy performance of the IT sector since 2009. Among all data centers it evaluated, Switch - a new entry to this year’s report - is making the best progress to transitioning its data center fleet to renewables through both procurement and aggressive advocacy, it says.
The IT industry’s energy footprint accounted for 7 percent of global electricity in 2012, a number set to grow as global internet traffic increases, according to the report. It is expected to exceed 12 percent by 2017, it says. Video streaming, which accounted for 63 percent of global internet traffic in 2015 is projected to reach about 80 percent by 2020, according to Cisco Network Traffic Forecast, 2016.
This year’s Greenpeace report also evaluates Asian companies for the first time, including tech giants Tencent Holdings Ltd. (HKG:0700) , Baidu Inc (NASDAQ:BIDU), Alibaba (NYSE:BABA), and Naver Corp (KRX:035420) , which are steadily expanding globally. The region is well behind the U.S. market in renewable commitments, due in large part to fewer clean energy options from monopoly utilities, said the report.
“Leading tech companies in the U.S. have shown that clean power can be both good for the environment and for business. East Asian companies must step up to embrace that reality as well,” said Jude Lee, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.
Dina Medland is an independent writer, editor and commentator with a strong focus on issues around corporate governance, ethics, the workings of the boardroom and sustainable business. She is on the team of contributors to @ForbesEurope and is an ex-Financial Times staff member who has been a regular contributor in recent years. Further details about her background and a portfolio of work – including her commercially sponsored blog ‘Board Talk’ are available on her website http://www.dinamedland.com.