It’s almost impossible to think about companies “going green” without thinking of pushes towards paperless operations. The reduction in printed business materials is practically synonymous with “sustainability program” these days. There’s something to be said for that: e-materials decrease a company’s waste footprint. But what about its online footprint?

That’s right! Every online file—every piece of data—has an associated energy cost. For companies with data centers, this may not be surprising. The electricity and energy required to keep servers cool enough to run properly is often a significant portion of the company’s carbon footprint. Yet for businesses that use cloud computing for data management, this energy cost is hidden. Even companies without data plans have websites with hidden energy costs.

Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter! If the Internet were a country, it would be the 6th largest consumer of electricity, just ahead of Germany. Most electricity used to power the Internet is still generated from the burning of fossil fuels. This means that there is a substantial carbon footprint associated with online business operations.

Many tech companies realize the magnitude of this problem and are beginning to take steps towards more sustainable website and data management. Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google have all publicly committed to powering their operations with 100% renewable energy. Of those, Apple, Facebook, and Google released information on their progress. Cloud storage providers that power their data centers with renewable energy are able to enhance the sustainability of the businesses that use their clouds for company data and operations.

As of now, green-cloud technology is an emerging sustainability issue. Companies that champion this cause may have the “first-to-market” benefit. Being an early adopter can enhance company brand reputation with the public. On the flip-side, there is a risk to waiting. As more and more tech companies place emphasis on sustainable data and publically report on it, the pressure to switch to sustainable data sources will increase. Failure to switch, or committing to a provider that is slower to utilize clean energy sources, may create reputational risk for businesses.

The best thing your company can do right now is to figure out how “green” its current data storage is. Our fellow B Corp Mightybytes, a web developer, works with its customers to get greener in this arena.  Greenpeace offers a scorecard browser extension that allows you to see how clean the websites your business frequents are, as well as how green your service provider is. They also offer “clicking clean” guide, which includes a roadmap for how your company may go about reducing its online footprint. There is even information for companies with their own data centers.

As more and more business operations move online, the sustainability of data becomes increasingly important. Make sure your company is taking the right steps to green its corner of the Internet!