Many tech giants are going green - except Twitter and Amazon

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 12:50am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 12:50am

The internet is going green. Apple, Facebook and Google are working to make their slice of the internet run on 100 per cent renewable energy, and will soon succeed. But a report by Greenpeace claims that two of the web's biggest brands - Twitter and retail giant Amazon - are doing virtually nothing to avoid fossil fuels.

The report, issued last month, singles out Amazon Web Services, a spin-off data centre company that hosts thousands of websites and web services, as being one of the main culprits in preventing the creation of a "renewable web".

The stakes are high: there are now 3.9 billion unique e-mail accounts registered, and global internet data is expected to triple in the next five years. The report, "Clicking Clean: How Companies are Creating the Green Internet", lays out the immense power that technology companies have to either spark a renewable energy revolution, or to prevent one. According to the report, if the internet were a country, its electricity demand would rank sixth in the world.

Some companies have recognised that, with great power, comes great responsibility.

"Apple, Facebook and Google are powering our online lives with clean energy, and building a greener offline world for everyone in the process," says Gary Cook, senior IT analyst at Greenpeace. "These companies have proven over the past 24 months that wind and solar energy are ready and waiting to power the internet, and the rest of our economy, with clean electricity."

The report, which evaluated the energy choices of 19 internet companies - including 300 data centres - praised Apple for becoming the first company to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy with its iCloud service.

"Apple's rapid shift to renewable energy over the past 24 months has made it clear why it's one of the world's most innovative and popular companies," says Cook, who is wondering why Amazon Web Services "can't seem to keep up with Apple", and is consequently "dragging much of the internet down with it".

Amazon Web Services operates a lot of the internet, powering the services of the likes of Netflix, Spotify, Tumblr, Yelp, Vine and Pinterest. Greenpeace found that only 15 per cent of Amazon's electricity use is from clean energy, with coal, nuclear and gas each powering roughly a quarter of its massive cloud business.

It's not just Amazon Web Services that takes the rap; Twitter doesn't discuss its energy footprint. So why does neither company appear to care about corporate social responsibility?

"Amazon probably thinks that awareness of the issue is low enough that their lack of participation won't affect its business," says C.B. Bhattacharya, chair professor in corporate responsibility at the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, Germany.

"Greenpeace can help make the business case more compelling - they have a history of not letting go - and this clean clicks campaign is something they will use to publicise the fact that the likes of Amazon and Twitter are not engaging," he says.

"In time, this is likely to make more companies take part as the wider public becomes more aware - as has happened in the oil and manufacturing industries."

That using the internet has any kind of carbon footprint will come as a surprise to many.

"Every single movement online has some environmental impact," says Chris Rowson, managing director of eCO2 Greetings "All of the world's dealings on Facebook and Twitter are housed in large data centres that require huge amounts of electricity to power."

Rowson calculates that about 29 grams of carbon dioxide is emitted from postal mail compared with just four grams of carbon dioxide from an e-mail. However, that figure jumps to 19 grams if you attach a file as small as 1MB.

So next time you contemplate using the "reply to all" button, remember to keep your clicks clean.