Why are Salesforce hiding the emissions of their cloud?

Salesforce incorrect carbon data

The lack of transparency from Cloud computing providers is something we have discussed many times on this blog – today we thought we’d highlight an example.

Salesforce dedicates a significant portion of its site to Sustainability and on “Using cloud computing to benefit our environment”. They even have nice calculators and graphs of how Green they are. This all sounds very promising, especially the part where they mention that you can “Reduce your IT emissions by 95%”, so where is the data to back up these claims? Unfortunately, the data is either inaccurate or missing altogether.

For example, Salesforce’s carbon calculator (screen shot above) tells us that if an organisation based in Europe moves its existing IT platform (with 10,000+ users) to the Salesforce cloud, it will reduce its carbon emissions by 87%.

This is highly suspect. Salesforce’s data centers are in the US (over 42% of electricity generated in the US comes from coal) and Singapore where all but 2.6% of electricity comes from petroleum and natural gas [PDF].

On the other hand, if an organisation’s on premise IT platform in Europe is based in France, it is powered roughly 80% by nuclear power which has a very low carbon footprint. If it is based in Spain, Spain generates almost 40% of its power from renewables [PDF]. Any move from there to Salesforce cloud will almost certainly lead to a significant increase in carbon emissions, not a reduction, and certainly not a reduction of 87% as Salesforce’s calculator claims above.

Salesforce incorrect carbon data

Salesforce also has a Daily Carbon Savings page. Where to start?

To begin with, the first time we took a screen shot of this page was on October 1st for slide 26 of this slide deck. The screen shot on the right was taken this morning. As you can see, the “Daily Carbon Savings” data hasn’t updated a single day in the meantime. It is now over two months out-of-date. But that’s probably just because of a glitch which is far down Salesforce’s bug list.

The bigger issue here is that Salesforce is reporting on carbon savings, not on its carbon emissions. Why? We’ve already seen (above) that their calculations around carbon savings are shaky, at best. Why are they not reporting the much more useful metric of carbon emissions? Is it because their calculations of emissions are equally shaky? Or, is it that Salesforce are ashamed of the amount of carbon they are emitting given they have sited their data centers in carbon intensive areas?

We won’t know the answer to these questions until Salesforce finally do start reporting the carbon emissions of its cloud infrastructure. In a meaningful way.

Is that likely to happen? Yes, absolutely.

When? That’s up to Salesforce. They can choose to be a leader in this space, or they can choose to continue to hide behind data obfuscation until they are forced by either regulation, or competitive pressure to publish their emissions.

If we were Salesforce, we’d be looking to lead.

Image credits Tom Raftery

It is surprisingly easy to leave yourself open to claims of Greenwashing!

Spinning wind power

Photo credit Doxi

Companies need to take a lot of care when making Green claims. The whole Green energy space is massively complex and it is surprisingly easy to leave yourself open to claims of Greenwashing.

What do I mean?

Well, take the Irish energy sector, for example. Anyone who generates electricity in Ireland, which is to be distributed on the grid, is required to sell that power into the wholesale pool – the Single Energy Market (SEM).

Then any retailer who wishes to sell that power to businesses or residential customers, buys the electricity from the pool and sells to their customer base.

Now if you are grid connected in Ireland for your electricity supply (as most organisations are) you get your power from this pool.

Can you see where I am going with this?

Most electricity companies in Ireland do generation as well as retail. Some of them have a significant portfolio of renewable resources (chiefly wind). However, because of the structure of the market, they can’t sell this power directly to consumers, it has to go to the SEM pool first.

When the electricity retailers sell electricity, they have to purchase it from the SEM pool to sell to their customers. Because all electricity sold in Ireland comes from the same SEM pool, everyone has the same percentage of renewables in their supply (unless they have a private supply).

What this means in effect is that you can’t selectively buy renewable electricity in Ireland.

If you see companies saying that their Irish operations are “running on almost 90 percent wind power”, for example, they are either ill-informed, or they are Greenwashing.

If you can’t selectively purchase renewable electricity, what can you do to reduce the carbon footprint of your energy consumption?

Well, the best thing to do then would be to move your loads to times when the percentage of renewable sources in the pool is highest! Any company committing to doing that would be making a bona fide Green statement.