IT Companies Remain Committed to Reducing Emissions

    April 21, 2017

    By Scott Adams

    It’s important to remember that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to power the modern digital enterprise. Luckily, many tech companies have made sustainability a central component of their business plans.

    The electricity used by data centers and cloud companies accounts for a significant portion of the country’s energy consumption. The most recent Department of Energy figures placed the electricity usage of American data centers at 70 billion kilowatt-hours, amounting to a full 2% of the country’s energy use in 2014. According to the same report, in 2014, the data centers that now function as the engine of the internet exhausted the same amount of energy as roughly 6.4 million homes combined.

    As such, the energy choices made by American data centers — along with the many hyper-scale cloud giants who are their primary customers — will have a substantial effect on the country’s energy consumption as a whole. Luckily, a significant number of data centers and their clients have strongly reaffirmed their commitments to environmentally-friendly electricity sourcing.

    As Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) manager Kelly Gallo points out, the affordability of wind, solar, and hydroelectric power in a number of states means “it’s still pretty apparent that there’s a strong business case for renewable energy use [by data center operators].” And regardless of whether they are driven by principle or profit, what’s important is that data centers — and IT companies in general — stay committed to comprehensive emissions reduction.

    Data Centers Are Doing Their Part

    Encouragingly, Equinix, the world’s largest retail colocation and interconnection provider, has confirmed that it intends to remain a leader in data center sustainability. After the president’s order, Equinix spokesperson Michelle Lindeman stated that “We continue to have a long-term goal of using 100% clean and renewable energy for our global platform.”

    An early adopter of clean energy, in September 2015 Equinix agreed to a 105 megawatt solar power purchase agreement with SunEdison intended to offset the power consumption of all of its California data centers.

    Just two months later, the company announced a 225 megawatt wind power purchase agreement that, in tandem with the SunEdison deal, would offset the energy consumption of its entire North American data center portfolio. Equinix projects that by the end of this year, half of all its electricity will be drawn from renewable sources.

    Similarly, Switch, a smaller data center provider but one counting behemoths like Cisco, Boeing, and Fox among its clients, has said that it is “steadfast in its commitment to continue using 100% renewable energy.” After acquiring colocation provider Telx for $1.9 billion in late 2015, Digital Reality announced last year that it would purchase enough wind-sourced megawatt-hours to offset the energy consumed by all of its colocation and interconnection services.

    Consumers Approve

    While there’s no doubt that these companies recognize the importance of being a good steward of the environment, it seems fairly clear that they have been driven at least in part by their customers’ demands. Last summer, sixteen corporate users of data center services signed a BSR-assembled list of principles outlining sustainability expectations for data center energy sourcing.

    The group explained that, “As prime customers of energy-intensive colocation data center facilities (colos), we believe that increased ambition and efforts to maximize renewables at colos will result in a cleaner cloud.” This collective action has already resulted in Equinix, Switch, Aligned Energy, Green Mountain, and Infomart all making verbal commitments to become signatories of the BSR principles.

    Further, in response to the recent executive order, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Google issued a joint statement reaffirming their commitments to sustainable practices and expressing support for the now endangered Clean Power Plan. Collectively, these four companies spend billions of dollars annually on building, leasing, and operating data centers.

    With more enterprises contracting services from cloud infrastructure providers than ever before, sustainably powering the cloud is a critical piece of the tech industry’s broader environmental commitments. That makes the fact that major players like Amazon (AWS), Google (GCP), and Microsoft (Azure) are actively involved in pursuing clean energy all the more noteworthy.

    At the end of the day, reducing the IT industry’s environmental impact is on all of us — not just the industry giants. By taking proactive measures to assess existing infrastructures and processes, companies of all shapes and sizes can ensure that they’re operating as efficiently as possible. Let’s all do what we can to protect the planet, one kilobyte at a time.

    Category: cloud-computing