Industry body BSR has launched a campaign that will use corporate purchasing power to clean up the web services offered by cloud and colocation providers. 

The Six Principles for Cleaner Data Centers, a checklist of good environmental practice from service providers, was launched by Patrick Flynn, director of sustainability at Salesforce, at the DCD Webscale event last week. Created by industry body Business and Social Responsibility (BSR) the Principles set out rules of good environmental behaviour for service providers, encouraging them to be open about their environmental impact, and to move towards operations that produce less emissions. BSR wants corporate cloud customers to align to the principles, and push providers to sign up to them.

patrick flynn salesforce lead
Patrick Flynn, Salesforce  – DCD

Get rich and save the world

“In a few weeks, we will announce the inaugural signatories to the Principles,” said Flynn, in a keynote talk which promised that more moral use of cloud technologies could enable world-changing services without harming the environment.

The principles demand that providers give  their customers the option of using renewable-powered cloud, and provide full information about the energy consumption and environmental impact to customers. They also require the providers to get involved in promoting renewable energy and better environmental practice.

BSR, supported by Salesforce, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and others, wants the Internet to be powered solely on renewable energy. Earlier in 2016, the group set up a renewable energy buyers club called REBA, backed by the major cloud giants - Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Google - which aims to use their purchasing power to add 60GW of renewable power to the US grid.

The Principles aim to enlist players with a lower public profile, including the “white label” cloud providers used by corporates, by persuading big customers to apply pressure on their providers. “Companies that rely on these colo services now have a means to express their support for a cleaner cloud powered by renewable energy,” said BSR associate Katie Abbott in BSR’s announcement.

“The Internet is the  biggest thing we will ever build,” said Flynn in his Webscale keynote, arguing that data centers which fail to operate efficiently are immoral for contributing to global warming. Although recent data says that US data center energy use is holding steady, Flynn warned that this may be temporary: “It’s more like the steady point at the center of a tug of war,” he said, saying that future growth in demand could push energy use  much higher.

Idle servers and under-utilization in data centers is a source of waste that is not being addressed, said Flynn, adding that this was ironic, since those data centers are being used to fight inefficiency elsewhere: “These data centers keep planes packed, but we don’t apply the same efficiency to the data centers.”

The six principles set out by BSR are as follows:

  • Options: Provide options for cost-competitive services powered by renewable resources that reduce emissions beyond business as usual.
  • Data: Deliver monthly data on the colo client’s direct and indirect energy consumption, water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental data.
  • Incentives: Provide opportunities to align financial incentives for efficiency.
  • Collaboration: Provide options for colo client collaboration on efficiency and renewable energy enhancements.
  • Disclosure: Disclose individual sites and total global corporate footprint, as well as site-specific energy sources.
  • Advocacy: Engage in policy advocacy efforts that support the use of renewable energy.