Would you believe that the average internet user pollutes the atmosphere?
An average Google user – someone who does 25 searches and watches 60 minutes of YouTube a day with a Gmail account and other services – emits about 8 grams of CO2 per day.  The oddity is, watching an episode of Netflix, reading the New York Times online, and downloading apps are not obvious ways to pollute the atmosphere. But collectively, our growing demand for cloud services means that the data centers that power them are currently responsible for about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  That amount is on par with the aviation industry!
Our huge appetite for data is fueling the growth of companies like Google, which are spending billions of dollars on data centers every year. Last year in the U.S. alone for example, data centers used 91 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, equating to 97 million metric tons of CO2.  This order of magnitude is why investment and innovation in improving data centers for the environment is so important.
Google’s thought leadership in data center strategy
There are two primary pillars within Google’s green data center strategy. The first is to make the data centers themselves run more efficiently, and the second is to fund sustainable sources of energy to power the data centers.
#1 Efficiency: Google’s data centers are some of the most efficient in the world. The standard industry metric to measure data center efficiency is the power usage effectiveness (PUE) which is a measure of how much extra power is required to provide each unit of computational power. Google boasts a PUE of 1.12 vs an industry average of 1.7 and has continuously improved on this key metric since 2008. 
Google has achieved this improvement with several innovations over time:
- Server design: eliminate energy waste at the power supply and ensure the maximum power goes to the components that do the actual computing work.
- Temperature control: use advanced cooling strategies such as hot aisle isolation, economizers, and liquid cooling which require less energy; invest in power management software that run analytics on hardware utilization to predict cooling needs.
- Recycling: since 2007, Google has remanufactured and repurposed enough outdated servers to avoid buying over 300,000 new replacement machines. 
#2 Sustainability: The second pillar of Google’s data center strategy is to promote the development of clean energy projects by purchasing sustainable energy from local providers near its data centers. Google enters into long term power purchase agreements (PPAs) with providers to encourage creation of new wind and solar farms. By providing developers with a long term buying commitment, Google is essentially financing clean energy projects around the world.
Google’s innovative data center strategy combined with its continued purchasing of carbon offsets has enabled it to reach a 0 emission footprint. But of course Google’s has higher ambitions and is hungry to do even more in the future. Google is aiming for 100% renewable power and has committed to invest nearly $2.5 billion in renewable energy projects, which produce enough electricity to power over 1 million US homes. 
The Future is in the Clouds
Google has a portfolio of products and resources that uniquely enables it to reduce emissions in creative ways. Google should take on the responsibility to identify existing and new products that can result in net energy savings.
For example, a quick win with an existing product involves converting more small businesses that use locally-hosted email to use Gmail. Studies have shown that there are significant savings (172.8 kWh of energy and 101.6 kg of carbon per user per year) for small businesses with less than 50 people if they use Gmail instead of locally-hosted email.  Google has the scale and resources to push such products and educate potential customers about the corresponding environmental benefits.
New products and innovations that reduce emissions are also on the horizon for Google. Experiments with using DeepMind artificial intelligence algorithms to optimize the hundreds of variables within data centers has shown promising early results of reducing energy consumption by 40%. Google’s DeepMind technology could even have potential use cases beyond data centers, such as improving power plant conversion efficiency, reducing semiconductor manufacturing energy and water usage, or helping manufacturing facilities increase throughput. 
Google should undoubtedly be proud of its achievements in developing environmentally friendly data center operations. For a company with such a strong voice in the industry and an incredibly large arsenal of resources, Google must continue its leadership to close the carbon gap and open cloud computing’s potential to a new and cleaner era.
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 Google Green, “A better web. Better for the environment.,” https://www.google.com/green/bigpicture/, accessed November 2016
 Adam Vaughan, “How viral cat videos are warming the planet,” The Guardian, September 25, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/25/server-data-centre-emissions-air-travel-web-google-facebook-greenhouse-gas, accessed November 2016
 Reuban Yonatan, “The Incredible Environmental Impact of Cloud Technology,” GetVoIP, January 19, 2015, https://getvoip.com/blog/2015/01/19/environmental-impact-of-cloud/, accessed November 2016
 Google Data Centers, “Efficiency, how we do it,” https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/efficiency/internal/, accessed November 2016
 Google Data Centers, “Efficiency, how we do it,” https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/efficiency/internal/#recycling, accessed November 2016
 Google Data Centers, “Renewable Energy,” https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/renewable/index.html, accessed November 2016
 Google Green, “Products,” https://www.google.com/green/products/, accessed November 2016
 James Vincent, “Google uses DeepMind AI to cut data center energy bills,” The Verge, July 21, 2016, http://www.theverge.com/2016/7/21/12246258/google-deepmind-ai-data-center-cooling, accessed November 2016