There is a very urgent necessity to radically reduce energy and resource use, and think through the afterlife of technology, what happens to the devices once we no longer use them, NOT just to replace grey with green energy and continue with business as usual, or to only reduce energy use when little green energy is available. Each term in the catalog speaks of scaling down energy and resource use across the board.

Cloud computing service providers practice bad land relations. The hyperscale datacenters that are powered with renewable energy are NOT carbon neutral, no matter how convincing the sustainability pages of Google, Microsoft and Meta may sound. First of all, the renewable energy they use only covers a small amount of total energy consumption, in the case of Google for example, only 46% of emissions are reduced and neutralised, according to their own, unreviewed, reports 1. Google now also shifts data center workloads to follow the sun - and the wind. That is really great for them, it reduces their energy bill considerably, while promoting their ‘green’ image, but it is not sustainable.

Today Google places its data centres in the vicinity of, for instance, a windfarm and purchases its energy there. In Eemshaven, the Netherlands, Google constructed a hyperscale data centre and made a deal with a local energy provider to purchase all of the energy produced by a local windfarm. Microsoft did something similar when building a datacenter in Hollands Kroon, purchasing all energy produced by a local windfarm for 10 years. According to the provider, Nuon, the energy could power 370.000 households. These windfarms have received subsidies by the Dutch government with the goal of achieving green energy and emission targets, but because they end up solely covering the energy demand of newly constructed data centres, representing additional instead of existing energy use, no progress is made and taxpayers are indirectly sponsoring Google’s green public image.

The overarching problem with the sustainability reports of large corporations is not just the misleading statistics, its the focus on CO2 emissions. Their impact is bigger than emitting CO2; additional problems are the production of their hardware, their land and water use, the ewaste they produce and of course the thing that all this focus on CO2 emissions is trying to hide from public scrutiny: their business model; based on growth, that through surveillance and targeted advertisement, stimulates overconsumption and thereby overproduction and its destructive impact on the planet. Let’s not get too stuck on CO2 emission metrics, turning the issue into a tidy accounting problem, it shouldn’t distract attention from the bigger picture!

Greenwashing, changing appearances while maintaining existing polluting and damaging practices, and the misdirection of efforts and attention, brings us back to the need for a focus on ‘degrowth’.

  1. Valk, M. de (2021) Refusing the Burden of Computation: Edge Computing and Sustainable ICT, A Peer-Reviewed Journal About, 10 (1), pp. 14–29. DOI:10.7146/aprja.v10i1.128184.