The internet is one of the most important things created by humanity. It's like human civilization giving itself a nervous system, allowing any person anywhere to communicate instantly with any other part of the system, and to have access to almost the sum of human knowledge. We take things like Google and Wikipedia for granted because we live with them every day, but they would seem almost magical to most people from the not-so-distant past. And while 2.5 billion people have access to the net today, that number keeps growing fast and someday soon almost everybody will be online.
As marvellous an invention as the internet is, it can be made better by reducing the amount of pollution generated from running it. Since a lot of internet traffic ends up in the massive data-centers of a few big companies, looking at what they're doing to clean up their act is a good proxy for how green (or not) the internet is. Greenpeace has recently released a very interest report that does just that.
It's interesting to note who the bigger winners and losers are. Apple, a company that was heavily criticized by Greenpeace a few years ago, seem to have cleaned up its act the most, with the best marks of any of the big online players.
Here's a video of a solar farm in Maiden, North Carolina, owned by Apple:
The company has also said that they want to power their new sapphire plant in Arizona with 100% renewable energy from day one. They seem to have the right approach now, though they can always do more...
Facebook and Google are also doing well, though they still have work to do to reach 100% clean energy (note that since Greenpeace is anti-nuclear, they don't count nuclear power as 'clean energy').
"Radical improvements in transparency and efforts to deliver significant wind energy investment in Iowa have helped drive Facebook into the top tier of companies creating the green internet."
Google is now reporting electricity consumption of 3,315 GWh, with 34% of its operations powered by clean energy.
Amazon and Twitter both are at the bottom of the list. It's particularly unfortunately in the case of Amazon, because a large quantity of other companies run their websites and web services on Amazon's AWS platform, so they represent a huge amount of servers (for example, Netflix, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vimeo, etc).
"AWS has dropped further and further behind its competitors in building an internet that runs on renewable sources of energy, estimated at only 15%, and is the least transparent of any company we evaluated," writes Greenpeace.
"Twitter remains at the bottom of the industry for energy transparency, disclosing no information about its energy footprint. Twitter lags behind its competitors in social media, Facebook, which took significant steps to increase transparency and increase its use of clean energy soon after it went public," writes Greenpeace.
Here's the complete list: