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Google Reduces Carbon Use So We Don't Have to Reduce Google Use

No one’s arguing that we should cut back on internet searches, in part because Google doing a good job decreasing its data centers' energy use.

Google wants to reassure users that our compulsive Googling shouldn’t weigh on our carbon consciences. One hundred searches? That uses about the same amout of carbon as keeping a 60-watt lightbulb on for 28 minutes or consuming 1.5 tablespoons of Tropicana orange juice.

But those searches add up, and the company wants to do something about it. In a new report, Google says it used more than 1.45 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, most of it from the electricity it purchases to run its offices and data centers. In fact, that one company uses one-10,000th of all the world's elecrticity. (Most companies aren’t as transparent as Google about their total electricity use, so it’s difficult to say how that number ranks among other behemoth corporations, though Google is obviously less of an electricity hog than an oil company, for example.)

Google executives say they're taking a wide range of actions to decrease the company's carbon footprint. Using technology to constantly analyze the air flow in its data centers and using metal doors and cooling curtains to keep servers cool has helped tremendously, the company says. Google also buys electricity through "power purchase agreements" from developers working on new renewable energy projects. But simple fixes are important too: turning up the thermostat in data centers and reusing old servers are key parts of Google's strategy. It seems to be working: The company has already decreased its data centers' energy use to about half what most centers use and is working on even more dramatic reductions.

Google's efficiency improvements are important both because of the company's size and its position as a leader in global business. When companies find more energy-efficient ways of providing their services, consumers don't have to cut down on using those services. That's particularly good in this case: nobody wants to choose between a commitment to the environment and a Google addiction.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Marcie Casas

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