Google Still Leads, But Industry Needs to Do Much More on Renewable Energy Deployment

With breathtaking speed and forceful action, we saw the Internet industry rise up against the recent online IP piracy bill that most in Congress thought would easily pass.

They were wrong – Google, Wikipedia and other websites shut down to express their strong opposition to the bill and their message spread virally across social networking sites.

The result: Congress quickly backed down.

What would happen if these companies used this same power and influence to tell Congress to address climate change? What would happen if these companies said we want the US to get off fossil fuels and get on renewable energy and efficiency?

Besides advocating for policies, these companies need to clean up their act.

Data centers to house the explosion of virtual information currently consume 1.5-2% of global electricity, growing at 12% a year.

Instead of powering factories with coal, we’re now powering information technologies with coal. Over half the companies Greenpeace rated in How Dirty is Your Data rely on coal for
50%-80% of their energy.

Greenpeace says:

The rapid expansion of the telecom infrastructure and the data centers that power the ‘Cloud’ is driving significant energy demand, much of it from dirty sources, such as coal and diesel.

Without much stronger leadership among companies to driving renewable energy deployment, the amount of dirty energy in the sector’s electricity supply chain will double and triple to keep pace with its demand, potentially locking in another generation of dependence on coal, nuclear, and other fossil fuels that the planet cannot afford.

In Greenpeace’s 5th version of its "Cool IT Leaderboard," it gives Google the highest scores, followed by Cisco and Ericsson.

The Cool IT Leaderboard evaluates global IT companies on their leadership in the fight to stop climate change as this sector possesses the innovative spirit, technological know-how,
and political influence to bring about a rapid clean energy revolution.

Google scored particularly well for its political advocacy work and for efficiency (uses less than 1% of the total electricity used by data centers worldwide) and for using wind energy to power its massive data infrastructure. Google, Cisco, and Dell all stand out for sourcing over 20% renewable energy globally. Oracle got the
lowest ranking overall for failing to disclose renewable as well as dirty energy use.

"Google’s commitment to transparency, new investments in clean energy solutions, and success in powering a significant
percentage of its operations with renewable energy is what we expect to see from leading IT companies," says Gary Cook, IT analyst for Greenpeace. "Given their rapidly increasing energy demand, these companies must work to change the rules needed to drive greater investments in clean technology and renewable
energy deployment."

This new version of the Leaderboard ranks 21 companies
in the IT industry across three areas: Climate Solutions, Energy Impact and Political Advocacy. Companies were chosen based on their clean energy leadership potential, including opportunities to enable clean energy solutions and ability to influence decisions on all levels of government.

The single greatest example of political leadership comes from the
Japanese telecommunications firm Softbank, which has leapt to the vanguard of the debate in post-Fukashima Japan in demanding a rapid shift to renewable energy and away from nuclear power, earning the highest score ever received for
political advocacy leadership.

But the overall picture outlined in the Leaderboard demonstrates a lack of commitment to aggressively pursuing the business opportunities associated with clean energy solutions, combined with a significant drop off in policy advocacy leadership.

"Overall this is a sector that considers itself forward thinking, yet the majority are standing quiet while dirty energy companies exert undue influence on the political process and financial markets," Cook says.

This Cool IT Leaderboard comes on the heels of Greenpeace’s recently announced agreement with Facebook to push for a rapid transition to clean energy, ending its nearly two-year campaign to get Facebook to "unfriend coal". Facebook made a long-term commitment to power its platform with renewable energy, and
will be working to use its buying power to influence electric utilities to provide more clean energy.

Apple and Facebook, two of the sector’s most influential brands, were not included in this year’s Leaderboard. Apple has not demonstrated leadership or elected to pursue market opportunities to drive IT energy solutions that many of its
competitors have, despite record profits and large cash reserves.

Separately, Apple has recently been taken to task for working conditions in China, where Foxconn employs hundreds of thousands of people assembling Apple’s products.

Facebook will be considered next year due to its recently-announced committment with Greenpeace. The company recently launched the Open Compute Project to share best practices on energy efficient data centers.

Internet giants have been criticized for ignoring energy consumption and carbon management. "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," says David Metcalfe, director of research firm Verdantix.

Renewable energy can provide 95% of the world’s electricity by 2050, according to a comprehensive plan published by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council.

Here’s the Cool IT Leaderboard:

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