Google is one of almost 20 companies that have made pledges to use 100% renewable energy to power its servers ©Google
Google is one of almost 20 companies that have made pledges to use 100% renewable energy to power its servers ©Google

Twitter and Netflix shamed on use of renewables

11 January 2017

Twitter is one of the least transparent big tech companies over where it sources its energy, lagging behind Facebook, Google and Apple, a report has said.

In it’s latest industry benchmark, Greenpeace said the 140 character micro-blogging site did not provide any public information about its energy footprint, does not have any public energy goals and has shown no evidence of taking steps to secure a renewable supply of electricity.

Netflix and Amazon Web Services (AWS), the e-commerce site's cloud computing business, were also flagged as lacking transparency around their environmental impact.

The IT sector accounts for 7% of global electricity usage, Greenpeace estimates, and an increasing portion of this is consumed by the power hungry server farms supporting the internet.

“How we build and power our quickly-growing global digital infrastructure is rapidly becoming central to the question of whether we will be able to transition to renewable energy in time to avoid dangerous climate change,” the report said.

“If data centres and other digital infrastructure are 100% renewably powered, our increasing reliance on the internet can actually accelerate our transition to a renewably powered economy.”

Apple and Google were said to be leading the sector, both matching their growth with “an equivalent or larger” supply of renewables. The two firms were also praised for pushing the renewable energy agenda with their energy suppliers and with government.

Facebook was also commended, and the three firms are now among nearly 20 tech firms to have made 100% renewable energy pledges.

Netflix was singled out in the report as having an environmental responsibility because of the video streaming service’s size: it now contributes a third of peak time internet traffic in North America and is expanding globally, said Greenpeace.

Although it has pledged to fully offset its carbon footprint, the report claims the firm relies on renewable energy credit schemes ­­­– which subsidise renewable projects ­– instead of directly reducing its own emissions. 

“Netflix is one of the biggest drivers of the online world and has a critical say in how it is powered. Netflix must embrace the responsibility to make sure its growth is powered by renewables, not fossil fuels and it must show its leadership here,” said Gary Cook, senior IT analyst at Greenpeace USA.

Netflix also relies on AWS, which has just invested in new data centres in American states that are known to predominantly burn fossil fuels, the report said. AWS had “not indicated its plans for procuring renewable energy to match its demand in those locations,” it added.

Greenpeace’s benchmark ranked 70 of the most popular websites and applications on where they source their energy and the commitments they’ve made to renewables, based on public information. It has been running the benchmark since 2009. This year it included a number of Asian tech companies for the first time.

AWS told SM it had made “strong progress” towards their target of 100% renewable energy, and had reached 45% at the end of 2016. “AWS has to date enabled 10 renewable energy projects in the United States that will deliver a grand total of 2.6m MWh of energy annually onto the electric grid powering AWS data centres, and four of these projects are already online,” a spokeswoman said.

Twitter and Netflix both declined to comment on the report.

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