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Greenpeace report April 2014 on Cloud Company Green issues. Why the Digital Ecosystem perspective Matters

April 4, 2014


Energy policies of tech businesses will become increasingly important as the green sustainability issue becomes more apparent both politically and commercially. Study cites a reduction of 15% global emissions could be achieved by the ICT industry promoting improved energy practices across industry sectors. The report focuses on large cloud providers have a responsibility in support green practices.    

The Digital Ecosystems will have a direct impact on the effect of the ICT industry across all other industries.  


A recently report by Greenpeace highlighted issues of green sustainability of high profile cloud companies such as Amazon, Google, Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft and their IT Data centers.  Titled Clicking Clean: How Companies are Building the Green Internet.  it singled out Amazon for criticism and praised Apple for their green practices.   Download full report here

The recent United Nations  Climate change 2014 report on Impacts, Adaptation and vulnerability by IPCC Working Group II AR5  is raising the threat level of carbon and other pollutants on the global economy , health and welfare.

Other analyses of individual industry emissions suggest that Electricity and heat production followed by Industry and Transport are the major causes of emissions.   A Gartner Industry Analyst study in 2007 suggested the ICT industry only produce 2% of world CO2 Emissions.

The Greenpeace report cites the Smart 2020 report (2008 and updated 2012)  that  puts global emissions of 2% from the ICT sector on a par with the airline sector.  The Smart 2020 report goes on to say that up to 15% of global emissions could be reduced by the ICT industry helping improve Industry practices.   I agree with this view as the role of smart systems to control buildings, cities, automotive and air transport usage is optimized by better IT systems planning and managing the efficient use.      But this is why I also think that just focusing on Data centers is only part of the story and a wider city, industry wide level needs to be considered.

Whether the IT industry is the main culprit of green emissions I’m not convinced is the whole story when considering transport and energy production practices sectors supported by a 2005 World Resources Institute study (see Guardian article)   The key issue is that cities, buildings, air and road transport are key users of energy and emissions.

But Greenpeace are correct in the explosion of Internet use across the global but whether this is related  to the other figure they quote of a 60% increase in electricity demand by 2020 may not be directly related to ICT and the Internet usage.


What I do think is important is The Greenpeace report focuses on corporate policies of these high profile Cloud companies and in particular their renewable energy policies and practices.

The Greenpeace report by highlighting their  view of Amazon’s practice of sourcing lowest electrical prices and ignoring green issues is raising a core issue for measuring and defining corporate responsibility.

With internet data traffic globally being driven by 60% video and media (Cisco study) and many studies cited by Greenpeace of up to 25 Billion objects connected to the “Internet of things” in the next twenty years, the demand for data centers and power will grow.


IT Data centers are sources of energy consumption for electricity and heat cooling, but also sources of generating energy in by-products of heat removal which can be used to regenerate energy.

The traditional metric PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) measuring the data center’s energy input to usage efficiency is often the quoted number for a “ Sustainable Data center” for example a PUE  of 1.1  but this is irresponsible marketing and untrue as it does not reflect where the energy came from , the emissions  and how much energy it is using for example.   New metrics have been developed that focus on green issues specifically.   The Green Grid is an international consortium of companies and individuals devoted to reducing power usage in data centers and have developed metrics that aim to expand the measurement of data centers to include green and renewable energy practices. This extends The Uptime institute who produce the defacto standards around data center metrics of Service level tiers and recovery time operation metrics.  These have not covered the practices of energy management directly and hence why the Green Grid is a key improvement.

The Green grid have developed additional metrics: GEC, ERF and CUE.     GEC measures the proportion of the facility’s energy coming from green sources.  ERF identifies the proportion of energy that is exported for re-use outside the data center and CUE is a metrics to enable assessment of the total greenhouse gas emissions of data center relative to its IT energy consumption.


CSR Corporate Social Responsibility which is a self regulating compliance inititive may not go far enough to drive  stronger emissions and renewable energy behavior.   TheUK’s own government target of reducing emissions of UK’s greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 (from the 1990 baseline) needs more awareness and push in this area.  The2008 Climate Change Act was a world first in establishing legally binding climate change targets but the problem is a global one.


I am seeing the green issue moving to smart cities such as the Green grid in London and New York City Green initiatives.  The key reason is that Data centers tend to get located where there are high populations and demand for their services as well as discount incentives for energy and tax reasons.

So focusing on the big cloud providers is one way of raising awareness but I’m not sure this is the right approach holistically.  I agree that “dirty” data center practices should be improved and companies must tack responsibility for this ahead of their commercial competitiveness. I think individual company targets would be a good way to legislate for this with carbon trade penalties not being “a get out” clause.   The Greenpeace report is a welcomed reminder but in the world of multi connected industries we need to focus on the bigger industry questions more in my view.    The digital economy and the digital ecosystems will be necessary and can play a part in this.

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