Google, Microsoft Respond to Greenpeace

The Internet is mighty green, and our data centers are getting greener all the time.

That’s the gist of the responses from Google and Microsoft to last week’s report from Greenpeace International on the environmental impact of cloud computing. The environmental group called on data center operators to power their data centers using renewable energy, urging major cloud computing providers to use their business clout to pressure utilities and Congress to make renewable energy more readily available.

In their responses, neither company gets particularly specific in addressing Greenpeace’s contention that major data centers should be powered by renewable energy. But both note that the Internet is a major force for reducing the carbon impact of American business and knowledge gathering. And each say that the data centers that power the Internet revolution are getting more energy efficient all the time. 

Here’s the full statement from Google:

Google believes energy usage is an extremely important issue and we’re glad to see more public focus on the problem. We believe that the Internet and cloud computing data centers support services that can have a large impact on reducing carbon emissions. For example: rather than hop in your car and travel a few miles to the library, you can often find the information you seek doing a Google search from home; you can check inventory on a product before running an errand to a business that was out of stock or closed; and you can hold a meeting with coworkers over video chat instead of flying to meet them in person.

However, we also recognize that energy use by data centers is a concern. That’s why we choose renewable energy suppliers wherever we can for our data centers, and we apply a shadow price for carbon when buying power for our data centers to encourage the use of cleaner energy. Our researchers and engineers have been working for more than a decade on making our data centers as efficient as possible. In fact, Google data centers are 50% more energy-efficient than the industry standard.

In addition, as a company, we made a voluntary commitment to become carbon neutral in June 2007. Offsetting will always be an imperfect solution, and our focus remains on driving efficiency and increasing the use of renewable power sources. We continue to look for ways to improve upon that and to be greener as a company.

Finally, we see this as an issue that goes beyond data centers, since Google, along with everyone else, relies on an electricity portfolio that is depends on coal and other carbon-intensive sources. We ALL need cleaner, affordable options. That’s why we also have our our RE(less than)C initiative, which aims to create utility-scale renewable electricity that is cheaper than coal through engineering projects, investments and policy work.

Here’s Microsoft’s statement from senior director of environmental sustainability Francois Ajenstat, originally seen at the Seattle PI:

In planning for and running all of its operations and facilities, Microsoft takes into account its environmental impact, including energy use and carbon footprint as well as land and water usage. We, like every organization and citizen, rely on the available resources and infrastructure native to the region in which our facilities are located, and that includes local utilities.

It’s important to note, data centers and cloud-based services can help people reduce their impact on the environment. For instance, unified communications technologies can help people reduce travel and home energy management services like Microsoft Hohm can help reduce home energy use.

In our own operations, Microsoft is committed to maximizing energy efficiency and to innovating in support of environmental sustainability. For example, our Quincy, Wash., data center was designed to reduce its carbon footprint by using the available hydropower as its primary source of energy and in Dublin, Ireland, we use the naturally cool outside air to cool the data center, helping to improve efficiency by approximately 50 percent.

Facebook previously addressed Greenpeace’s critiques of the power sourcing for its Oregon data center. See Facebook’s Response to Greenpeace for the full test of their statement.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. Where does Greenpeace get their data center power? Have they been willing to share their yardstick they measure with or are they committed only to throwing rocks? Can someone point us to Greenpeace's data?

  2. I founded CarbonZero IT to provide firms with renewable energy powered IT services. IT services that by and large would not make business sense without cloud computing. Cloud computing allows servers to operate remotely from users and maintainers. The technology allows firms to optimize workload for cost, availability, skills, and now carbon management. All done across different geographies each offering a specific advantage, say India for low cost application support or Iceland for low cost 100% renewable energy based server hosting. While this type of capacity is certainly not going solve all the problems associated with the high energy consumption of cloud computing data centers it does offer a cost effective clean energy alternative to carbon based power.