The Evolution of Tech’s Green Responsibility 

How Internet giants learned the value of action over words

On International World Internet Day, it’s a good time to look back on how Internet companies have evolved. In recent years, a handful of companies have grown to dominate all markets (online and off). Then, the Internet itself became these companies’ conscience, pressing them to behave more responsibly.

 

“Don’t be evil”

One of the first taglines that Google launched was “Don’t be evil”. It was arguably a slogan that came back to haunt them, as they came under increased scrutiny for potential invasion of privacy, monopoly behaviour and misuse of search results (among other issues).

 

Similarly, Facebook’s halo dimmed in recent years as it became associated with the dissemination of misinformation, either from its billions of users or political meddlers (depending on who you listen to).

 

Amazon too, once a darling of tech commentators, has also come under fire for its alleged mistreatment of workers.

 

Ironically, the scrutiny these companies faced was often the consequence of tools of their own invention. Suspicious and disgruntled public could verify their suspicions on Google and then find likeminded people and amplify their voices via social media.

 

The only solution was to put their money where their mouths were. And, in this age of increased enquiry, there are no short cuts. Enact meaningful change or don’t do it at all.

 

Servers’ Carbon Footprint

One area of urgent change that you might have noticed is the environment. And, while Internet companies don’t seem as toxic as say, fossil fuel industries, their carbon footprint can be a problem.

 

Servers – the lifeblood of everything from your Spotify music to your Netflix streaming and your information on the cloud – are notorious polluters.

 

For many tech giants, a good use of their apparently infinite resources is to reinvest it in the environment. Many of the highest-profile Internet companies are pumping money, time and energy into becoming carbon neutral. And incredible progress has been made.

 

Google is 100% carbon neutral, having used wind and solar to reach this goal in 2017; Apple is working towards the same goal, with 25 operational renewable energy projects around the world (and counting) and Facebook is at 75% carbon neutral, on track to hit 100 in coming years.

 

Crowdsourced Green Campaigns

Other companies are making progress in different ways. For his 65th birthday, Richard Branson crowdsourced 65 challenges. One of them was to make his company greener. Consequently, Virgin’s London HQ saw an overhaul, using 61% less energy than the year before and replacing single-use mugs and water bottles.  Branson intends to roll this out further throughout Virgin.

 

Elsewhere, Microsoft’s data centres use 60% renewable energy. This will be 75% by 2030. And Amazon are aiming for 100% green energy for their servers. They’re halfway there, thanks in no small part to Irish wind farms: the ecommerce titan has committed to buying the energy from a 91.2MW wind farm in Donegal.

 

Greener Internet Companies: What’s the Motivation?

There are countless other green initiatives across the Internet business world, at different levels of scale and commitment. The motivation for this is, of course, ambiguous. Whether these companies are incentivised by savings (green investments pay for themselves, especially at a large scale), PR or altruism.

 

But truthfully, it may not matter what the motivation is. The Earth doesn’t care why the air is cleaner. All that ultimately matters is the consequence.

 

And, on International Internet Day, the increasing wave of eco-awareness and investment in the Internet industry is cause for cautious optimism.