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September 12, 2011
Google Finally Comes Clean on Energy Usage
    by Robert Kropp

The IT giant's energy consumption continues to grow, but with the help of renewable energy sources and the purchase of carbon offset credits the company claims to have been carbon neutral since 2007.

In its first public disclosure of total energy use, Google reported last week that it generated almost 1.5 million metric tons of carbon emissions in 2010. The company's data centers alone consume 260 million watts of electricity on a continuous basis.

Notwithstanding its massive energy consumption—compared in some reports to the energy usage of Salt Lake City or all the operations of the United Nations—Google also makes the claim that its operations have been carbon neutral since 2007, because of its purchase of carbon offsets. According to Jolanka Nickerman, Program Manager of Google's Carbon Offsets Team, the company employs third-party verification to ensure that projects in which it invests are reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the extent claimed.

Other technology companies have abandoned their efforts to achieve carbon neutrality through the purchase of offsets. Yahoo! did so in 2009, and in its recently published Cor porate Responsibility Report, Dell announced that it will stop buying Renewable Energy Credits in order to achieve carbon neutral business operations. Trisa Thompson, Vice President for Corporate Responsibility, wrote in the report, "We will continue to purchase as much electricity from clean and renewable sources of energy as practical."

Google reported that one-quarter of the energy it purchased in 2010 came from renewable sources, and that the amount will increase to one-third in 2012. The company also announced that it is now submitting annual emissions data to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).

In a blog post, Tom Dowdall of Greenpeace International wrote, "Transparency is widely recognised as an essential building block toward environmental protection and sustainability. The IT industry is key to tackling climate change because energy consumption of the internet is projected to triple by 2020."

Greenpeace publishes an annual Coo l IT leaderboard, which evaluates the performance of global IT companies in addressing climate change. In its most recent analysis, Dowdall wrote, "Google scored a big fat F for transparency."

"If we were giving out new grades based on today's release, Google would likely earn a low to middle 'B'", he added.

Google also claimed that its reliance on cloud-based computing "has proven to be not only more convenient, secure, and time-saving than locally-hosted solutions, it's also more environmentally sustainable." Using its cloud-based applications such as Gmail, for instance, "can be as much as 80 times more energy efficient than running email services on local servers," the company stated.


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