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Green Clouds for Google

By on October 24th, 2011

The environmental friendliness of electronic media has never been exactly clear cut, but some Internet companies claim to be dedicated to enhancing it. In particular, Google—which famously released its own carbon footprint for the first time a few weeks ago (“We generated a total of 1.46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide”). However, the company pointed out:

Without efficiency measures in our data centers our footprint would have been about twice as big. By purchasing and generating renewable energy, as well as buying high-quality carbon offsets, we bring our carbon impact to zero.

Adding:

To provide you with Google products for a month — not just search, but Google+, Gmail, YouTube and everything else we have to offer — our servers use less energy per user than a light left on for three hours.

This week, GreenBiz has a close look at Google’s sustainability efforts, which is a far deeper, more nuanced story than just headlines like “Google Uses More Power than Salt Lake City.” For all the power it uses for all its servers and data centers, the company does its best, it seems, to limit its overall environmental footprint, by purchasing renewable and low-carbon energy, purchasing carbon offsets, and investing in clean-energy companies.

As I have said often, all human activities have some kind of environmental impact—usually a negative one. This is inescapable. But the key is to do our best to reduce that impact. And while it’s difficult to get that warm and fuzzy feeling for a technology company, it appears as if Google is giving more than lip service to the issue. I’m sure no one is going to stop using any or all of Google’s services purely for environmental reasons, but it’s nice to know they’re at least trying to live up to their early slogan, “Don’t be evil.”

The GreenBiz piece also touts the environmental advantages of cloud computing—“That’s because in computing, as in so many other industries, scale drives efficiency. Bigger is greener.” I’m not sure I necessarily agree wholeheartedly, but a big part of it will be how the cloud companies—and this includes Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and others (and, yes, Google)—manage their resources. Big companies have big footprints—here’s hoping they can offset their impact on the environment.