The days when all our software, music, pictures and documents were stored on our own work or home computers are numbered. With companies such as Apple, Amazon and Facebook gathering masses of content on distant servers, all we need is a device that lets us log on, and the world pours into our smart phone, tablet or computer.
That means less plastic packaging, fewer cardboard boxes, and theoretically more environmentally friendly media use. However, the giant servers delivering all this digital content depend on massive amounts of electricity. That’s where the problem lies.
Greenpeace International’s updated survey asks “How Clean Is Your Cloud?” Unfortunately, the answer is “not very.” Much of the energy that powers the cloud is supplied by dirty utilities.
Dirty Utilities Power the Cloud
“How Clean Is Your Cloud?” looks at 14 of the leading companies moving to cloud technology. All of them rely to varying degrees on coal and nuclear power, but some are gradually moving to greener sources.
Yahoo and Google rank highest for their commitment to renewable energy. Facebook earns kudos for moving in that direction, with the construction of a new data center in Sweden that will be powered by renewable energy.
Amazon, Apple and Twitter score all Ds and Fs. After reviewing the data, Amazon and Apple told Greenpeace the estimates were incorrect, but they did not provide corrected information.
Data Centers and Renewable Energy
Greenpeace also looked at places where there are clusters of data centers. Access to renewal energy was apparently not high on companies’ lists of requirements, as the report notes:
Though a number of global IT brands claim to include sustainability criteria in their data center site selection process, for most it still appears to be far down the list of factors that lead to the ultimate decision on where to invest. As highlighted in the companies evaluated here, highly profitable companies who have otherwise accepted the science of climate change and associated dangers of coal-fired electricity to the global and local environment are still making huge data center investments based on the short-term lure of low-cost dirty energy, and increasing the demand for coal and the pollution that comes with it.
The Greenpeace report gives consumers who are trying to be more environmentally responsible another tool to use. With so much digital content moving to the cloud, buyers of devices that tap into it have another question to ask: “how clean is your cloud?”
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