Streaming services slow down tech's clean energy rankings

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Apple has topped Greenpeace's global league table ranking tech firms' decarbonization efforts for the third year in a row. But the campaign group has warned the industry as a whole is not doing enough to mobilize investment in clean energy infrastructure.

The influential rankings assess the world's largest internet companies based on the make-up of the energy they use, their commitment to sourcing 100 percent renewable power, their transparency in reporting their energy use, their energy efficiency efforts and their advocacy for a cleaner energy system. Alongside the Silicon Valley giants, the 2017 report includes assessments of many of Asia's largest internet firms for the first time, including Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba and Naver.

Apple topped the 2017 league table, largely thanks to its rapid progress in sourcing more than 80 percent of its power from clean sources.

"A grades" also were awarded to data center specialist Switch as well as Facebook and Google, which said recently it would become 100 percent renewable powered during 2017.

"Apple retains its leadership spot for the third year in a row among platform operators," the report stated. "Both Apple and Google continue to lead the sector in matching their growth with an equivalent or larger supply of renewable energy, and both companies continue to use their influence to push governments as well as their utility and IT sector vendors to increase access to renewable energy for their operations."

The report praised the technology sector for the key role it has played in driving corporate demand for renewable power, especially in the U.S.

"IT companies who have made 100 percent renewable commitments are already seeing results in the deployment of a significant amount of renewable energy to power data centers and are modelling leadership for companies outside the IT sector to pursue their own 100 percent renewable energy goals," the report stated. "Direct purchase of renewable energy by corporations in the U.S. has increased dramatically since 2010, exceeding 3.2GW in 2015 alone, with over two-thirds of this volume attributed to renewable electricity deals by major internet companies."

However, the report also argued that some IT companies that have made commitments to source more renewable power need to be more transparent about their progress to date, with Amazon singled out for criticism.

"Amazon continues to talk a good game on renewables but is keeping its customers in the dark on its energy decisions," said Greenpeace USA senior IT analyst Gary Cook in a statement. "This is concerning, particularly as Amazon expands into markets served by dirty energy." 

In addition, the report highlighted how companies in the increasingly popular on-demand video and music streaming space are failing to deliver sufficiently ambitious clean energy policies. Netflix and Spotify both received a "D grade" while Amazon Prime received a "C grade."

"Like Apple, Facebook and Google, Netflix is one of the biggest drivers of the online world and has a critical say in how it is powered," said Cook. "Netflix must embrace the responsibility to make sure its growth is powered by renewables, not fossil fuels, and it must show its leadership here."

Video streaming accounted for 63 percent of global internet traffic in 2015, and is projected to reach about 80 percent by 2020, according to the most recent Cisco Network Traffic Forecast.

The report concluded without more urgent action to decarbonize the internet in growth markets and regions, the progress made by some brands risks being undermined. It also argued internet companies needed to do more to work with governments and energy suppliers to increase renewables capacity.

"Faced with a lack of access to renewables in monopoly markets, there are increasing signs that some companies are resorting to status quo shortcuts to reach their claims of being renewably powered, increasing the demand for dirty energy and undermining the continued leadership and momentum of market leaders who are legitimately driving additional renewable investment," the report warned.

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