Cloud computing giant Salesforce has achieved two big feats: net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in its direct operations, and a “carbon-neutral cloud” for all its customers.
The San Francisco firm on Thursday said it reached the environmental milestones by investing in wind power systems, designing energy-efficient data centers and buildings, and by purchasing credits from clean energy projects to offset its remaining fossil fuel use.
“We’re seeing the urgency to act on climate change now more than ever,” said Patrick Flynn, Salesforce’s senior director of sustainability.
Salesforce is part of a larger movement by global tech companies to confront their sector’s growing carbon footprint.
After all, storing data in the cloud and streaming millions of movie and music files still has a major environmental impact. Data centers brimming with servers consume enormous amounts of energy, as do the offices where software developers, engineers, and coders work. If tech giants get that electricity from coal or natural gas, instead of renewables, the sector’s emissions will balloon.
To that end, Google has said it will power 100 percent of its data centers and offices with wind and solar power starting this year. Apple is investing in clean energy not only at its own buildings but also its manufacturing sites, a move that helped it earn the top score on Greenpeace’s 2017 “Clicking Clean” report card.
In that report, Salesforce earned a “B,” mainly because the rapidly growing company has expanded into areas that largely rely on coal-fired electricity. Emissions from Salesforce’s data centers more than doubled in a year’s time, from 52,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent in fiscal year 2015 to about 110,000 metric tons in fiscal year 2016, the company reported.
Flynn said that’s precisely why Salesforce has accelerated its clean energy efforts.
The company last year signed two 12-year agreements to purchase power from wind farms in Texas and West Virginia. Both projects are expected to generate a combined 225,000 megawatt-hours of electricity each year — slightly less than the 265,000 megawatt-hours of electricity Salesforce directly consumed during the last fiscal year.
Salesforce is also supporting two carbon offset projects, which are independently verified and regularly audited to ensure they actually translate into avoided greenhouse gas emissions.
The first project helps families in Honduras replace wood-burning cookstoves with more efficient alternatives to reduce harmful indoor air pollution and carbon emissions. A project in India will help put solar water heaters atop houses, buildings, and universities to displace the use of fossil fuels.
Salesforce first committed to achieving net-zero emissions in 2015 as part of a “Net Zero by 2050” initiative led by the B Team, a group of global business leaders. To reach that goal, Salesforce purchased enough clean electricity credits to cover the emissions from its offices and data centers, plus the power plants that keep its servers running.
Salesforce said it would also create a carbon-neutral cloud by offsetting emissions further down the supply chain, such as emissions related to installing servers in data centers.
Leah Seligmann, director of the B Team’s net zero initiative, congratulated Salesforce on its milestones. “Salesforce’s leadership will enable their customers to expand their networks emissions-free and inspire other companies around the world,” she said in a statement.