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Climate change by cloud, according to Greenpeace

“Facebook’s decision to build its own highly-efficient data centre in Oregon that will be substantially powered by coal-fired electricity clearly underscores the relative priority for many cloud companies. The US EPA will soon be expanding its EnergyStar rating system to apply to data centres, but similarly does not factor in the fuel source being used to power the data centre in its rating criteria. Unfortunately, as our collective demand for computing resources increases, even the most efficiently built data centres with the highest utilisation rates serve only to mitigate, rather than eliminate, harmful emissions.” – Greenpeace statement

Well-known environmental group Greenpeace released a study this week which, at its root, found that the current computing cloud that powers the internet has been and remains a source of stress of our planet due to high energy consumption and subsequent pollution.

While the study offers an overarching look at the industry as a whole, researchers make examples of data facilities run by Facebook and Apple, both of which use high amounts of electricity which is offered exclusively by the burning of coal. With fingers also pointed at Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, the report concludes that the data industry in general represents a very large user of electricity and that major players in the field should be setting an example by working towards new and improved standards for facility location, efficiency and energy sources.

The overuse of the word “cloud” indicates an attempt by Greenpeace to tap into popular conceptions of the internet in order to more widely spread their word but the indications offered by the study ring no less true; coal burning is a significant source of atmospheric pollution and data center operators around the world often hold more closely to their bottom line then they do any particular idea about what is best for the environment. One can only hope that the significant trend seen in recent months towards far more energy-efficent facilities where new construction is concerned holds true long into the future.

With some speculation that Greenpeace is opening the door for strong and influential allies in its fight for stricter regulations on energy use in the United States, it will be interesting to see the official reactions, if any, from the companies named in the report. With newly imprinted eco-awareness driving the actions of many consumers, notable firms would do well to be more public in their environmental efforts and Greenpeace has opened a very large door, indeed.

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