Greenpeace Attacks Tech Giants for “Dirty Clouds”

Michael Foley April 17, 2012 0
Greenpeace Attacks Tech Giants for “Dirty Clouds”

Greenpeace recently posted its annual report on Internet companies and their energy consumption and are pointing the finger accusatorily at some large players in the internet space. The report criticizes companies like Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, and Amazon for lagging behind their Web counterparts in using clean energies. The Greenpeace report, aptly names “How Clean Is Your Cloud?”, takes special notice of tech giant Apple, Inc, accusing it to use dirty energy to power the servers that keep its iCloud and SIRI up and running. According to Greenpeace, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft “are all rapidly expanding without adequate regard to source of electricity, and rely heavily on dirty energy to power their clouds.”

But the report had some nice things to say about one behemoth’s use of energy to fuel its cloud services. Despites its earlier debacles with the Greenpeace organization, Facebook received high praise for its commitment to renewable energy, particularly with its new data center in Sweden.

Greenpeace also commended Google and Yahoo for “prioritizing access to renewable energy in their cloud expansion, and [becoming] more active in supporting policies to drive greater renewable energy investment.”

But Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, and Amazon, however, did not fair nearly as well.

The environmental organization went easy on Microsoft, criticizing only that it did not have a consistent data center policy that gives a preference to renewable energy sources over traditional fossil fuel plants.

But when Apple came into the picture, the tone was wholly different. Far from being lenient, Greenpeace pointed out that Apple’s huge new data center in North Carolina, as well as one planned for Oregon are “powered by utilities that rely mostly on coal power”. The report raised the question of how Apple could, with so much available capital, continue environmentally harmful policies, policies which place it “behind companies such as Facebook and Google who are angling to control a bigger piece of the cloud.” To which Apple responded with a statement to The Gaurdian that they “believe this industry-leading project will make Maiden the greenest data center ever built.”

Greenpeace continued to criticized the micro-blogging platform Twitter for its server space in Atlanta, which “has a high percentage of coal-fired electricity.” A spokesperson from Twitter gave the statement that “The Greenpeace report raises important considerations around energy efficiency. We continue to strive for greater energy efficiency as we build out our infrastructure, and we look forward to sharing more on our efforts in this space in the coming months.” (Pretty hollow stuff if you ask me.)

And like Twitter, Amazon was mainly chastised for its lack of transparency. “Despite its significant size and resources, AWS does not appear to have made any purchases or investments in renewable electricity for its facilities,” Greenpeace said. But instead of regurgitating PR fluff, Amazon went to challenger the report, stating that

The data and assumptions about Amazon are inaccurate. Amazon Web Services believes that cloud computing is inherently more environmentally friendly than traditional computing. Instead of each company having their own datacenter that serves just them, AWS makes it possible for hundreds of thousands of companies to consolidate their datacenter use into a handful of datacenters in the AWS Cloud, resulting in much higher utilization rates and eliminating the waste that occurs when datacenters don’t operate near their capacity. The cloud enables a combined smaller carbon footprint that significantly reduces overall consumption.”

And this raises interesting questions. Is Amazon’s defense of its practices justified, that is to say, is being better than the worst enough? Or should tech companies never be satisfied with the status quo, but always endeavor to be more environmentally friendly. And even beyond that, how important should the pursuit of environmentally friendly solutions be for these businesses?

In my humble opinion, Amazon’s defense is weak. Just because they aren’t the worst doesn’t make them good. I would even argue that being such a large organization, it is not only easier (in the way of having the money to fund such projects) but also the duty of Amazon to be a leader in the industry and a trend setter in pursuing renewable energy practices. Now, I of course understand that companies need to balance a whole host of different goals and motivations but I firmly believe that more environmentally friendly practices, especially in forward thinking tech companies, are extremely important not solely for hippie-esque reasons but also practical ones. Aside from the initial investments I see them as being more efficient and cheaper.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.

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