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Are Google and Amazon Underestimating Their Own Carbon Footprints?

The SSC Team March 15, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Two of the world’s leading technology companies are under fire for underestimating data centers’ carbon footprints amid claims they use an obsolete tool for calculating emissions from electricity they purchase off the power grid.  

Lux Research, an independent research and advisory firm, went after the two tech giants for using tools that make broad generalizations about power production in the regions where Google and Amazon have large data facilities – reporting that the two companies may be underestimating their carbon footprints by 42,000 MT CO2e per year and 85,000 MT CO2e per year, respectively.

It’s pretty clear that Lux is using Google’s and Amazon’s data – data based on the EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID) – to tout its own analytical tool that estimates GHG emissions from electricity use.

What is important to note here is: the world of sustainability tools out there is rapidly moving. What you report today can be disputed tomorrow as new analytical tools, calculators, and data sets are developed.  

It’s not that eGRID is a terrible tool, or that Lux has built a surefire new solution, it’s more about choosing the right tool, at the right time, and at the right level of detail for your individual case.

Not every company needs a power-plant-by-power-plant analysis of its power sourcing, as the cost of a microscopic look at GHG emissions in this area may outweigh the overall variation in results. In other words, for many companies, the eGRID analysis would be absolutely acceptable based on moderate use of electricity in a given area as the overall data is within an acceptable margin of error.

However, power-intense companies like Google and Amazing, using vast amounts of energy, should absolutely be looking for the most refined and detailed tool to analyze power use impact. Being off by just a small percentage can represent tens of thousands of tons of CO2 being left un-reported, and more accurate data should help inform locations of future data centers to optimize clean power use.

If an organization is new to sustainability reporting, GHG calculating or meeting industry standards for environmental data, it is highly unlikely that that organization is going to be able to navigate these ever-changing waters without help.

Partnering with an experienced consulting firm like SSC, with the background knowledge and experience, to choose the best-fit reporting tool for every individual case is critical. Contact us today to talk about your carbon footprint analysis.  

 

 

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