Amazon wants to make delivering your packages carbon neutral

Deliveries are going green, but what about that cloud computing data center?
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Amazon wants half of its deliveries to customers to be carbon neutral in just over 10 years. The retail-to-cloud-computing giant said that advances in technology mean it can now see a way to cut the carbon emissions related to delivering products to consumers.

"With improvements in electric vehicles, aviation bio fuels, reusable packaging, and renewable energy, for the first time we can now see a path to net zero carbon delivery of shipments to customers," the company said. Amazon said it is aiming to make half of all its shipments "with net zero carbon" by 2030.

The company has already set a long-term goal to power its global infrastructure using 100 percent renewable energy and said it is making "solid progress" towards this target, without giving more detail. It said it will start sharing its company-wide carbon footprint, goals and related programs later this year.

"This follows an extensive project over the past two years to develop an advanced scientific model to carefully map our carbon footprint to provide our business teams with detailed information helping them identify ways to reduce carbon use in their businesses," the company said.

As Amazon's impact on retail continues to expand, concerns have been raised by many about the environmental impact of packaging and the vehicles used for delivery. It's a modest step in the right direction but other big tech companies have also been trying to show off their green credentials, particularly in terms of their infrastructure, and seem to be moving faster.

The vast demand for electricity to power the infrastructure that runs the tech giants is under increasing scrutiny. "With the tremendous amount of energy needed to power data centers and their rapid growth, how we power this digital infrastructure is rapidly becoming critical in determining whether we will be able to stave off climate change in time to avoid planetary catastrophe," warned Greenpeace in a recent report.

In April last year, Apple said retail stores, offices, data centres and co-located facilities in 43 countries — including the US, the UK, China and India — were powered by renewable energy, and all of Apple's data centres have been powered by 100 percent renewable energy since 2014. The company said 23 suppliers had also committed to powering their work for Apple using renewable energy. 

SEE: Cloud v. data center decision (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Also, in April last year, Google said it was now purchasing enough renewable energy to match all the electricity it consumed over the year. The company said that because it was not possible to completely power a company of its scale by 100 percent renewable energy, for every kilowatt-hour of energy it consumes, it adds a matching kilowatt-hour of renewable energy to a power grid somewhere. 

In 2016, Microsoft set a goal of using renewable energy to power half of its datacenters and cloud operations by the end of 2018, with that figure rising to 60 percent by early 2020 and to continue increasing from there.

A recent report by Greenpeace noted that the choices of big tech companies can make a big difference to the production of renewable energy: "Because of the desirability as a customer to electric utilities, these commitments have also caused many local utilities to significantly shift their investment to renewable electricity generation in order to meet the needs of existing data center customers or remain competitive for attracting new investment."

But it also points to the concentration of data centers in Northern Virginia, where Amazon Web Services has a major presence, as an example of how tech infrastructure can also drive demand for fossil fuels.

Greenpeace said the potential electricity demand of both existing data centers and those under development in Virginia was approaching 4.5 gigawatts. It said that because Virginia is mostly a regulated electricity market, customers have limited choice in what type of energy they purchase and from whom they purchase. "This means that the majority of rising electricity demand needed to power data centers in Virginia is driving even more demand for fossil fuels, and more CO2 emissions that are fueling global warming," Greenpeace claimed.


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