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Why Yahoo Won’t Buy Carbon Offsets Anymore

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Tuesday July 7th, 2009 | 1 Comment

Data-Rack 001During a press conference last week, Yahoo’s co-founder David Filo announced plans to build energy efficient data centers in New York. Standing by his side was New York Governor David Patterson and Senator Chuck Schumer. Filo also announced Yahoo would not be investing in carbon offsets anymore. According to a blog post by Filo, data centers represent the majority of Yahoo’s energy consumption.
Yahoo’s New York data centers will receive 90 percent of its power from hydroelectric power from Niagara Falls. The data center it plans to build “will have an annualized average power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 1.1 or better,” according to Filo. Yahoo plans to use only outside air to cool the servers.

Yahoo’s goal is to reduce the carbon intensity of its data centers 40 percent by 2014. Its facilities in Washington are powered by wind and hydroelectric energy, and uses outside air to cool buildings in the summer.
Filo’s blog post gave several reasons why Yahoo will no longer buy offsets:

“Instead, we’ll focus our resources on reducing our carbon impact while helping the rest of the industry do the same. We believe creating highly-efficient data centers will have a greater long-term, direct impact on the environment and gives us the best opportunity to play a leadership role in addressing climate change.”

Christina Page, Climate and Energy Strategy for Yahoo, said Yahoo’s reasons for not buying offsets is not to make a statement. “It wasn’t a spotlight about offsets. It was how can we drive the industry around efficiency.”
Page noted that energy use for data centers has “doubled over the past five years” and is expected to double again. “We have an opportunity to show the rest of the industry what’s possible in terms of efficiency. In doing so, we’ll have an impact well beyond our individual footprint.”
The accounting for carbon offsets is “rooted in a concept known as additiontality,” according to an article in Scientific American last month. Additionality means that a project should “owe its existence to the prospective earnings from carbon credits.” The article pointed out that “determining which projects are additional can be tricky.”
James Nash, a climate scientist with Greatest Planet, said in an article that trees sequester carbon during their lifetime, but do not reduce carbon. According to him, “Energy conservation is probably the best way to lower your carbon footprint.”
Other companies are improving their data centers
Google has the most efficient data center to date, with a PUE of 1.12. However, other energy efficient data centers are in the works. The partnership of EMC, Cisco, MIT, and the University of Massachusetts plans to invest $100 million to build a new data center in Holyoke, MA, and power it with hydroelectricity.
Microsoft plans to build new data centers in Chicago and Dublin, Ireland that combined will be one million square feet. The Chicago facility will be made of containers that can be the “size of tractor trailers.” According to a blog post by Arne Josefsberg, Microsoft’s Microsoft’s general manager of infrastructure services, the Dublin data center “makes extensive use of outside air” to cool the facility, and the containers used in the Chicago data center “will help us realize new advancements in power efficiency.”

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  • David Harris

    To be clear, Yahoo went from zero net emissions (having offset 100% of its somewhat inefficient energy use), to offsetting none of its now or soon more efficient energy use. An accurate headline for its press release could have been “Yahoo announces plans to increase CO2 emissions.”
    Certainly energy efficiency is a must. But so is everthing else we can do to reduce emissions overall, including offsetting with projects that owe their existence to the carbon market.