Let’s be honest. Most medium and large businesses don’t “go Google” for the sheer environmental impact.

The key reasons that most medium-sized and enterprise companies began “greening” their data centers in the last decade are actually pretty prosaic, and not necessarily environmental.

Also, if you look at the Go Google web page, you’re not going to see any copy about environmental impact. At this point, it looks like there are two key advantages to using Google’s cloud infrastructure:

  1. It’s clear that they have a much greener footprint than your company does, and
  2. Using Gmail appears to be 80 times more energy efficient than running your email in-house.

First, let’s look at what makes a data center cheaper.

In a 2010 Forbes article, Dell’s CIO, Robin Johnson, cited that 40% of an enterprise’s power costs could be spent on technology alone. One big factor in this expense is that when a server is running an application in one location, there’s unused space on that server. If it’s not running at full capacity that space and the power required, is being wasted.

Here’s Google’s data center philosophy: at a high level, Google states that their data centers are using nearly 50% less energy than the average data center because they do a few things differently.

They use mostly recycled equipment, and they claim that they’ve kept their data center operation carbon neutral since 2007, but I haven’t read the neutral third-party verifications of this statement. (That said, Google did reveal their actual carbon footprint a few weeks ago – it’s on par with the United Nations’ carbon footprint. Google’s power distribution techniques have a lot to do with keeping their internal costs down, too.


Then there’s the whole Gmail thing. If you’re having trouble believing how or why their infrastructure is 80 times more efficient than yours, let’s break it down. (You may want to print out this PDF for visuals).

First you have to remember what’s powering your email system: the client device (phone, laptop, PC), the network (your routers, switches and all the other networking equipment) and your servers. By switching to cloud-based email, right there, you’re cutting out two of those three pieces, for routing email. Let’s say you have a company with 1000 employees – you’d need two multi-core servers, and these would draw 900 watts. That’s a lot of power.

If you scale it down a little, and realize that most 50-employee companies are buying servers that can host email for a 300-employee company, you see that out of the 400 watts that their two small-company email servers are using, 300 of them are being wasted. (Two servers would be used for redundancy.)

Without getting too deep into the heating and cooling requirements for servers – which you can read about in the PDF – it becomes clear that some small businesses are at least 20x less green than they should be, compared to big businesses, simply because their servers are being used inefficiently, let alone not being cloud-based.

A small business user requires 8 watts of power, per user, and an enterprise user requires .54 watts, while a Gmail user requires .22 watts. So, the choice for IT directors of a smaller company (100 users) is pretty clear: 800 watts versus .22 watts on Gmail.

How to tell if your enterprise is big enough to make an environmental impact

“Are we even big enough to make a difference?”

That’s a question you’ll likely hear from your CIO or even your CEO. Here’s how to tell.

You can gauge the carbon usage of your email and file storage assets by using the PDF linked in this article. Chances are, if you’re a small or medium business, your user’s annual carbon footprint is somewhere between 103kg and 16.7kg, for email alone. If your company had access to the assets that large companies have, it would be closer to 4.1kg, and if you put it in the cloud it can get pretty close to the 1kg mark.

The question you should ask in reply to your CIO’s concerns is, “If we can reduce our company’s annual carbon footprint by at least 11 tons, would you want to look at a way to do that, especially if it may save us money?”