Google on Thursday disclosed its carbon footprint for the first time, providing details on the company’s global electricity consumption and its campaign to neutralize its contribution to global warming.
The search giant’s extensive efforts to green up its operations – from its electric car fleet to its investments in renewable energy – are well known. But Google had previously declined to state just how much carbon was thrown off by its massive complex of data centers. Google’s green energy czar, Bill Weihl, told me in 2007 that the company worried that releasing such information would allow competitors to reverse engineer the size and nature of its data centers.
“It is true that we were concerned, early on, about competitiveness,” Parag Chokshi, a Google spokesman, said in an email. “However, as Google and the industry have matured, we’ve decided that it’s more important to share information about energy consumption to encourage best practices.”
Google said the company emitted 1.46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010. Data centers and offices accounted for 1.2 million metric tons through the purchase of electricity, representing less than 0.01% of global electricity consumption, according to the company.
About 11,126 tons of direct emissions came from the operation of Google’s vehicle fleets, its Google street view cars and fuel consumed at its offices. Indirect emissions – travel, building construction, employee commutes – stood at 207,065 tons.
The company’s electricity consumption in 2010 was 2.3 million megawatt-hours.
Google says it has been carbon neutral since 2007, offsetting its greenhouse gas emissions by signing contracts to purchase renewable energy from wind farms and the like and by buying carbon credits that help finance other green power projects.
But that’s just part of the story. Google says it’s been aggressively cutting energy consumption and through such things as using environmentally friendly building materials and operating a fleet of shuttle buses that transport a third of the company’s Bay Area workforce to and from its Silicon Valley headquarters.
Data center electricity consumption is now half that of a typical facility, according to the company, which has published a white paper on how to green up a server farm. A new Google data center set to open this week in Finland, for instance, deploys a seawater cooling system that minimizes electricity use.
“We started the process of getting to zero by making sure our operations use as little energy as possible,” Urs Hoelzle, a Google senior vice president for technical infrastructure, wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “ For the last decade, energy use has been an obsession.”
The release of the carbon footprint data and follows the publication of a study Wednesday showing that Google’s cloud computing services such as email are more energy efficient than traditional corporate inhouse systems.
The company’s green efforts are detailed on its Google Green site. (Todd Woody/Forbes)