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Greenpeace demands greater transparency from AWS over datacentre energy use habits

Greenpeace claims the cloud and internet service provider community is improving on sustainability, but AWS could afford to do more

Amazon Web Services (AWS) needs to be more open and transparent about where it sources the energy used to power its cloud datacentres from, claims Greenpeace.

The environmental lobbyists made the claim in its 2017 Clicking Clean report, which marks a continuation of Greenpeace’s ongoing efforts to monitor the renewable energy usage habits of the world’s biggest cloud and internet service providers.

Each company featured in the report has its environmental performance graded from A to F, with Greenpeace basing its judgements on the information each firm makes publicly available about their sustainability habits.

Since the publication of the first report in 2009, Greenpeace said it has seen a “significant increase” in the prioritisation of renewable energy use among cloud and internet service providers.

“The race to build a renewably-powered internet started with digital platform leaders, such as Facebook, Apple and Google, who made 100% renewable commitments four years ago and have now been joined by nearly 20 internet companies, including global cloud and colocation companies who had previously been lagging far behind,” said the report.

The report pinpoints Microsoft as an example of such a company, with Greenpeace complimenting the cloud giant on its renewed commitment to increasing the use of green energy by its datacentres. As a result, Microsoft’s grade has been changed from a C (in the previous two reports) to a B.

This is on the back of the company making a public commitment to ensure that 50% of its datacentres will be directly powered by renewable energy by 2018, up from 44% in January 2017.

“While this shift in focus in Microsoft’s policy is welcome, a much greater sense of urgency on the implementation side is needed given the rapid expansion of Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure currently underway,” the report stated.

Google gets an A

Google’s commitment to becoming a 100% renewably powered company by 2017 saw it secure an A grade in the report, with Greenpeace hailing the “clear articulation of the principles” it follows to improve its sustainability practices.

“Google has improved on synchronising its plans for expansion with the ability to make progress on its renewable energy goals. This is evidenced by recent expansions in the United States, South America and the EU, all of which have been matched with a strategy to deliver enough renewable energy to match their electricity demand,” said the report.

AWS, however, was cited as a company that – despite taking some positive action on renewable energy use – could stand to do a whole lot more, given its reliance on datacentres located in areas where dirty energy use is rife. As a result, it received a C grade.

“AWS took some important steps in the past year, including promising leadership in supporting the clean energy policy. But given AWS’s continued lack of transparency, and its rapid growth in Virginia and other markets largely served by dirty energy, it remains unclear whether the AWS cloud is actually on a path to becoming renewably powered,” said the report.

Read more about datacentre sustainability

The report goes on to accuse AWS of refusing to disclose basic information about the energy performance of its datacentres and the environmental impact of its operations.

This, in turn, can make life difficult for customers who want to keep tabs on the sustainability of their supply chains.

“For customers of AWS and many other data center operators, it remains difficult if not impossible for the companies to benchmark the footprint of their online operations because their suppliers do not disclose critical energy data, or what is provided is done so only under a non-disclosure agreement, significantly limiting usefulness,” said the report.

For these reasons, Greenpeace described AWS as lagging behind its cloud contemporaries when it came to sustainable energy use, before calling on Netflix – one of its biggest customers – to use its sway to encourage Amazon to clean up its act.

“Amazon continues to talk a good game on renewables, but it is keeping its customers in the dark on energy decisions. This is concerning, particularly as Amazon expands into markets served by dirty energy,” said Gary Cook, senior IT analyst for Greenpeace USA.

“Like Apple, Facebook and Google, Netflix is one of the biggest drivers of the online world and has a critical say in how it is powered. Netflix must embrace the responsibility to make sure its growth is powered by renewables, not fossil fuels, and it must show its leadership here.”

Computer Weekly contacted AWS for a reaction to Greenpeace’s claims, but had received no response at the time of publication.

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