When it comes to renewables investment, big tech has been putting its money where its mouth is.
Amazon announced this week that it would be building three new wind farms in the U.S. and the U.K. On their completion in 2021, the facilities could output a combined total of 500,997 megawatt-hours of electricity per year-enough to power a small city (depending on the city).
Last month, Google announced it would be putting $2 billion into renewables across the U.S., South America and Europe. Facebook announced in September that it had agreed to buy the power generated by a 200 megawatt wind farm in Texas. This followed a May announcement that it had partnered with Boston-based Longroad Energy to create a $416 million solar project, also in Texas.
All this activity appears to bolster this week’s International Energy Agency forecast that renewables could attract up $1 trillion in global investment by 2040.
Yet perhaps there are also other dynamics at play.
Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos have been on the receiving end of sustained criticism over everything from the firm’s treatment of its workers to the products it sells.
There’s even a popular Twitter account dedicated to the premise that Bezos, given his enormous wealth, could single-handedly end world hunger-and logs every day that he doesn’t do so.
Social media giant Facebook is facing similar, possibly existential challenges. Company founder Mark Zuckerberg came under heavy fire this week at a congressional hearing following a series of controversies over alleged false advertising, claims of mismanagement of political content and an ongoing crisis of confidence over the way the site handles its users’ data.
Google, too, is under pressure on both sides of the Atlantic to clean up its game in relation to customer data and its business practices.
To put it bluntly, the tech behemoths need all the good PR they can get. And it just so happens that committing to serious emissions curbs is one such reputational shot in the arm.
Renewables enjoy an overwhelmingly positive perception among the public-particularly in Europe. A Eurobarometer survey by the European Commission this year found that more than 90% of people believe ambitious targets should be set to increase renewable energy use.
At the same time, the public conversation about the responsibilities of big business, both to their customers and the planet, has become louder and more sophisticated.
The calculus is an obvious one: show people you’re serious about being part of the solution on climate change, and salvage some public goodwill.
This isn’t exactly greenwashing, in which corporations make exaggerated or even invented claims about their environmental credentials. These investments are real; they will have a concrete impact on the tech giants’ combined emissions.
Perhaps instead it could be termed “greenspinning:” enjoying the reputational windfall that comes from environmentally sound strategizing, while fighting far less favorable publicity battles on other fronts.
It’s not going to make those pesky journalists and politicians go away, but it might just assuage some of the concerns of an online-savvy consumer base that has a far better grasp of the impact that their clicks, likes and purchases are having.