Earth Island Institute logo, tap or click to visit the Institute home page

Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Issues > Summer 2014

Powering the Clouds

Powering the Clouds

Oh, the joys and curses of the Internet. For the 2.5 billion people connected to the World Wide Web, the Internet puts seemingly unlimited amounts of information, entertainment, and data storage at our fingertips.

Unfortunately, computer server farms that sustain the Web also require massive amounts of electricity. Collectively, the electricity required to power global Internet and cloud storage facilities would rank sixth when compared to countries, and is expected to increase at least 60 percent by 2020. Some companies have begun to recognize the economic and environmental benefits of tapping into renewable energy sources to power operations. Unfortunately, some other companies lag far behind.

Here’s how some big firms rank.


According to Greenpeace, Apple has been the most innovative and aggressive of the major Internet companies when it comes to using renewable energy. Take one example: Apple’s gigantic North Carolina data center is country’s largest privately owned solar farm. Apple is also a leader in energy transparency, energy efficiency and mitigation, and renewable energy advocacy.


Amazon gets a low grade for continuing to rely on dirty energy. This is especially unfortunate given that thousands of smaller companies use Amazon Web Services to host their websites, making Amazon a pillar of the Web’s infrastructure. Amazon is also the only major information cloud provider to refuse to release any information regarding energy use or corporate environmental impacts.


In 2011, Facebook became the first large Web company to commit to becoming 100 percent powered by renewable energy. The company has also embraced energy transparency, and reports annually on its energy and carbon footprint, including facility-specific energy information. Unfortunately, Facebook tarnished its green reputation in 2013 by donating to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a climate change-denying organization.


Currently powering about a third of its operations with clean energy, Google has committed to powering its data centers with 100 percent renewable energy. The Internet giant has also emerged as a leader when it comes to energy policy, publishing policy papers on renewable energy and hosting conferences on how to green the Internet. Google lags behind Apple and Facebook, however, when it comes to providing energy information for individual facilities or co-location vendors. And, like Facebook, Google contributed to the Competitive Enterprise Institute in 2013.


Now with more than 200 million active users, Twitter ranks near the bottom of Internet companies when it comes to energy use and transparency. The company doesn’t own its data centers, and instead leases space from other companies, and does not appear to consider renewable energy availability or carbon footprint in those leasing decisions. However, it is hard to find much information about Twitter’s energy choices since the company discloses little to the public about its energy use or mitigation measures.


Email this article to a friend.

Write to the editor about this article.

Subscribe Today
cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJFour issues of the award-winning
Earth Island Journal for only $10



No comments yet…

Leave a comment

Comments Policy

Please enter the word you see in the image below:


Four issues for just
$15 a year.

cover thumbnail EIJ

Join Now!