Study: Internet Firms Lagging On Green Strategy

The world’s leading Internet companies are still delivering mediocre results where it comes to their energy and carbon management strategies, according to a new study from green consultancy Verdantix.

The study, Carbon Strategy Benchmark: Internet Sector, examined the carbon and energy-management strategies of the top 14 Internet and social networking firms, including Chinese companies Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent along with Akamai, Amazon, Apple, eBay, Expedia, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Priceline, Salesforce and Yahoo.

Emissions disclosure

Verdantix found that only four of the companies studied disclose greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their data centres on a worldwide basis. None of the companies use assurance from a recognised, independent verifier of GHG emissions data such as DNV, KPMG or PwC, Verdantix said.

This isn’t good enough in a world where data centre power consumption is growing at a fast pace, Verdantix argued. Data centre power usage doubled between 2000 and 2006, according to the US’ Environment Protection Agency, and the US Department of Energy estimates that data centres now consume up to 3 percent of the US’ total electricity usage.

Green strategies are in part a matter of protecting a company’s brand, according to Verdantix.

“To remain competitive the world’s largest internet and social networking firms need to keep energy costs under control and protect the brand with transparent carbon communications,” said Verdantix senior manager Janet Lin in a statement. “Risks from ignoring energy and carbon management will grow over time – not shrink.”

Companies such as Alibaba and Facebook need to deploy energy management software to improve their energy cost control and assist in GHG reporting, and companies should invest in assurance for their GHG inventory data.

Verdantix argued that fast-growing companies can’t deliver absolute reductions in carbon emissions through energy efficiency, and instead should track their performance against intensity metrics such as Carbon Usage Effectiveness in data centres.

Positive moves

The study did come up with some positive findings, showing that Akamai, Apple and eBay are ahead of the competition on energy efficiency enhancements and transparent disclosure of carbon emissions.

Verdantix applauded Salesforce for communicating GHG reductions from its cloud services and Google for recently disclosing its carbon footprint.

Google reported last week that its carbon footprint is around 1.5 million tonnes, putting its energy usage around that of the United Nations.

On the other hand, several companies have rejected stakeholder requests for greater disclosure. In June the board of Amazon rejected a proposal by investor Calvert Asset Management for improved transparency on GHG emissions.

Such companies face greater pressures partly because of their high profiles, Verdantix said.

“Due to their rapid growth and global prominence, internet and social networking firms such as Facebook and Google will be confronted by a barrage of energy and carbon emissions challenges,” said Verdantix director David Metcalfe in a statement. “Big data centre users such as Amazon and Salesforce cannot ignore the closing jaws of mandatory carbon reporting indefinitely.”

Google revealed last week that it used 2,259,998 MWh of electricity last year – enough to power 200,000 homes – but claims that many of its cloud-based services are up to 80 times more efficient than traditional alternatives.

The Internet search giant published its energy usage for the first time last Thursday, via a new web page called “The Big Picture” on the  Google Green site. While admitting to be one of the largest users of data centres, Google claims that its facilities use only 50 percent of the energy of most other data centres.

“To provide you with Google products for a month – not just search, but Google+, Gmail, YouTube and everything else we have to offer – our servers use less energy per user than a light left on for three hours,” said Urs Hoelzle, Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure, in a blog post.

Group campaigner Greenpeace, which has run a campaign against Facebook’s use of coal-fired electricity, and has called for qall data centres to get cleaner, in its Cool IT campaign, has warmed to Google following its green epiphany, raising its score from F to B, in green rankings.

Sophie Curtis contributed to this report.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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