The tiny European nation of Denmark (population 5.76 million) is famed for its green credentials. It plans to stop using coal for generating electricity by 2030, and the last Danish-owned oil company has been sold.
Added to which, on 22 February 2017, it generated enough electricity from wind to power the entire country for a day. For the whole of 2017, it generated 43% of its power from wind turbines and hopes to push that up to 50%.
But Denmark's environmentally friendly reputation is coming under pressure, thanks to the booming tech sector. Plans are afoot to build six new data centers in the country, which will significantly increase electricity demands. Renewable energy sources won’t scale infinitely, and even modest increases in provision can be both costly and time-consuming to bring into service.
All of which means Denmark faces an ongoing reliance on carbon-based electricity and a predicted 10% increase in the country’s carbon emissions between now and 2030. That’s when those coal-fired power stations are meant to be coming offline.
Somewhat ironically, the relatively high proportion of renewable energy produced in Denmark appeals to those tech companies who are mindful of their own carbon footprints. But rather than being a solely Danish phenomenon, this might be a warning for the rest of the world too.
Some of the numbers involved in an assessment of the tech industry’s energy usage are truly astounding. Netflix, for example, is responsible for roughly one-third of all internet traffic in North America, and video streaming services are expected to account for 80% of all data travelling across the internet by 2020 – not just in the US and Canada, but worldwide. The tech sector currently uses an estimated 7% of the world’s electricity, but by 2025 that could have risen to a staggering 20%. If it was a country, the tech industry would rank third – behind the US and China – for global power consumption.
Although there is an increasing awareness among the big tech brands of managing their energy consumption more responsibly, some are doing better than others.
The environmental organization Greenpeace has scrutinized the environmental impacts of the world’s biggest online businesses. In its report Clicking Clean: Who Is Winning the Race to Build a Green Internet?, tech companies receive a rating based on their energy transparency, commitment to using renewables, energy efficiency, renewable energy procurement and their energy advocacy.
Here’s a snapshot of how some of them performed.
Facebook and Instagram perform well in the Greenpeace report, both scoring 67% on the clean energy index and each receiving a grade A. They are closely followed by LinkedIn and Tumblr who score Bs. Other big names, however, didn't fare so well, including Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit.
With a score of 83% on the clean energy index, Apple’s iTunes is way out in front, and the only music streaming service awarded an A. None scored a B or a C, with Spotify the only D-ranked service, scoring just 56% for clean energy. Others, including Pandora and Soundcloud, scored an F.
Of the 13 ecommerce companies profiled by Greenpeace, none scored an A. Etsy and eBay, both online marketplaces, were the highest ranking with a grade B. Retail giant Amazon scored a C. The remaining 10 all received Fs, with many only achieving a 2% score on the clean energy index.
There was only one A in the video streaming category, too – YouTube, which is owned by Google. Amazon Prime scored a C, ahead of streaming rivals Netflix and HBO who, along with Vimeo, scored a D. Vevo and Hulu were among those receiving a grade F.
One of the biggest names online – not just in messaging – is WhatsApp. It performed well, according to Greenpeace, and was awarded an A. But its clean energy index rating of 67% wasn’t quite as impressive as the 83% achieved by Apple’s iMessage.
Looking at the overall performance of tech brands, Apple, Facebook and Google were the strongest performers – all earning an A.
- Adobe: B
- Microsoft: B
- Salesforce: B
- Amazon Web Services: C
- HP: C
- IBM: C
- Alibaba: D
- Oracle: D
- Samsung: D