Greenpeace Raises Pressure on Internet Companies to Go Renewable

For at least four years, Greenpeace has been raising public awareness and putting pressure on the world’s largest data and cloud computing center providers to fuel their operations with clean, renewable power. In May, Greenpeace released its 2015 “Clicking Clean: A Guide to Building the Green Internet” report, in which it evaluates and ranks the likes of Akamai, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Apple, Google and Microsoft in terms of renewable energy investment, use and leadership.

Greenpeace is looking to raise public pressure further with the June 10 release of its “Click Clean Scorecard.” Significantly expanding its groundbreaking research, in the supplement Greenpeace assesses and ranks 110 of the world’s largest websites and their publishers on their overall and renewable energy use, reporting, disclosure and advocacy.

In addition, Greenpeace launched a Google Chrome extension that for the first time enables Web users to see a Click Clean report card for the website and its publisher as they access the site. Prior to the Click Clean Google Chrome extension, Greenpeace hadn’t really reached out directly to individual consumers, senior energy campaigner David Pomerantz told REW during an interview. “We wanted to provide a tool that Web users and consumers can use to check websites’ energy usage, and more importantly, that of the company behind it,” Pomerantz said.

Applying Customer Leverage

With Internet traffic growing at 20 percent a year, the decisions high-profile website publishers and data/cloud center operators make today regarding the type of energy they use to run their data/cloud computing centers will determine the nature of the U.S. power mix and electricity infrastructure for decades to come, Greenpeace points out. The type of energy they choose to use and the energy policies they adopt, moreover, will have a big impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, other forms of environmental pollution and degradation, and the global effort to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

In both its Click Clean reports Greenpeace emphasizes the leverage individual consumers and website publishers large and small have when it comes to influencing the energy choices and policies of the world’s data and cloud computing center providers. It’s these “upstream” Internet sector companies Greenpeace is zooming in on in its drive to accelerate renewable energy investment and deployment.

“Our big motivator is to raise public awareness and urge Internet companies to increase their renewable energy investments, increase procurement and be transparent in accounting for and disclosing information regarding their energy usage and carbon footprints,” Pomerantz said. The website publishers that are data/cloud computing center providers’ largest customers, he continued, can put “upward pressure” on them to accelerate the transition to cleaner, more environmentally friendly energy resources.

Greenpeace points out that some of the 110 largest website publishers covered in the Click Clean Scorecard run their own data centers or colocate by sharing them with other companies. Many, however, are customers of big data center/cloud hosting companies, such as AWS, Apple, Google and Microsoft. 

“We’ve seen some pretty big impacts when Internet compaies commit to renewable energy,” Pomerantz noted. He offered up “a great example of this” as a group of nearly 20 AWS customers joined in releasing a public letter calling on AWS to accelerate realization of its 2014 commitment to power all AWS data/cloud computing centers with 100 percent renewable energy, as well as be more transparent regarding their efforts.

According to Greenpeace: “AWS customers should push the company to become more transparent about its energy footprint, and to make clear what strategies and principles it is using to reach its 100 percent renewable energy goal, particularly in its dirtiest regions, like Virginia.” Coincidentally, AWS on June 10 announced it is joining with Community Energy to build what is to be the largest solar power farm in the state.

Renewable Energy Rankings

With online video being by far the biggest driver of consumer network data traffic it’s no surprise that Internet video service providers such as Netflix, Google and Hulu feature prominently in Greenpeace’s Click Clean Scorecard. Thus far, they have done little in the way of reporting publicly on their energy consumption and carbon footprints, however. As a result, as a group they received low scores in Greenpeace’s analysis.

Apple’s iTunes stands alone as the only major online video streaming service providers to provide full transparency regarding its energy use. Apple and Google’s YouTube, Greenpeace notes, have publicly committed to powering their businesses entirely from renewable energy sources.

Among the largest website publishers, companies such as Facebook are leaders when it comes to providing consumers metrics regarding energy usage of its services and how that electricity is produced. A large majority of the 110 major websites covered in Greenpeace’s supplement, 81 percent, provide little or no such information, however.

Apple, Automatic (developer of the WordPress blogging platform), Etsy and Facebook are among the Internet companies who have taken notable, substantial steps with regard to transparency of their energy usage and carbon footprints, according to Greenpeace. So are Intuit, Wikimedia Foundation and LinkedIn.

Greenpeace also singles out Internet companies whose refusal to publicly disclose information regarding energy usage that may lock us into ongoing use of fossil fuel energy sources. In addition to AWS, these include Twitter and HBO. And while it rates highly when it comes to transparency, Automatic graded out with a ‘D’ overall. Automatic has not made a commitment to power its blogging platform with renewable energy, and it hasn’t come out publicly as a renewable energy “champion,”  according to the Click Clean Scorecard.

Pomerantz pointed out that reporting and public disclosure, as well as renewable energy use, is in its early stages of development. That said, “every company that has a digital footprint has something they can do short and long-term to increase renewable energy supply, if not directly themselves than further up the supply chain.”

Lead image: Asif Islam. Credit: Shutterstock.

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  • Andrew reports on renewable energy, clean technology and other issues and topics from posts abroad and here in the US.

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