7. Netflix (1997)
The obligatory weird selection for a top-ten list. I was going to name Autodesk for its software that allows others to design products with less embedded energy and packaging, but the miracle of being able to watch Dr. Dolittle 2 instantly got the better of me.
Netflix doesn’t make energy equipment. The company, though, has popularized a concept -- downloading movies -- that was discussed by futurists for years. In turn, the required bandwidth will put more pressure on computer makers and data centers to improve the energy efficiency of computing. Expect to see demand for flash memory, compression algorithms, new types of cooling systems, data center management tools and other technologies to get pulled in its wake.
The pipeline buildup will additionally help pave the way for arguably the world's most cost-effective green technology: videoconferencing. SAP says its $300,000 videoconferencing system paid for itself in a year. Microsoft has cut per capita travel costs by 30 percent. Getting rid of jewel cases for DVDs helps too: a Stanford study last year estimated that downloads cut 40 percent to 80 percent of the energy out of the music industry supply chain.
For the profligate number of computing cycles that you’ve inspired the public to consume for mammoth video files, we -- and the consultants from IBM and HP that will get hired to solve some of these problems -- salute you.