Yes, Apple is on a “winning streak,” with iPhone sales more than doubling (a total 18.65 million sold) in the last quarter, and huge gains in sale of MacBooks and iPads, according to the New York Times. But in one area, Apple has a gotten a failing grade: It’s been named the least green technology company by Greenpeace, because of its reliance on “dirty data”—coal-burning—centers.
These are the centers that are behind the massive data cloud we’re all living in, with and through. According to Greenpeace, the cloud currently consumes 1.5%-2% of the world’s total power and is growing at a rate of 12% a year. Every time you leave a comment, upload a photo, or publish a blog post, you’re using some energy. Sure, Facebook and Twitter and Google are all “free,” but they do cost us—cost the planet—something.
Says the Guardian:
Greenpeace’s report, How Dirty is Your Data? reveals that the company’s investment in a new North Carolina facility will triple its electricity consumption, equivalent to the electricity demand of 80,000 average US homes. The facility’s power will be supplied by Duke Energy, with a mix of 62% coal and 32% nuclear. On Wednesday, Apple posted a large boost in quarterly earnings, which grew by 95% to $6bn (£3.65bn).
Gary Cook, Greenpeace’s IT policy analyst and lead author of the report, said: “Consumers want to know that when they upload a video or change their Facebook status that they are not contributing to global warming or future Fukushimas.”
Companies in the US are not required by law to disclose their energy use or carbon emissions. But Greenpeace drew on publicly available information on investments made in data centres, to estimate the maximum power these facilities will consume, and matched that information with data from the government or utilities.
The report estimates dependence on coal at Apple’s data centers to be 54.5% (Apple has a huge new data center that draws its energy from North Carolina’s coal-powered grid), followed by Facebook with 53.2%, IBM with 51.6%, HP with 49.4% and Twitter with 42.5%. Yahoo gets top marks in Greenpeace’s clean energy index, followed by Google (which has made a $100 million investment in a wind farm) and Amazon.
Greenpeace has also started on a campaign for Facebook to “unfriend coal” and to use cleaner energy to power its servers.
TechCrunch puts Greenpeace’s rankings into perspective:
… this is Greenpeace and so there has to be some finger pointing and letter grading. The main purpose of this report is to reveal top company’s impact on the environment by mainly examining their dependency on fossil and nuclear fuels rather than using renewable sources. However, even Greenpeace notes that these numbers might not be exact since they were calculated without all the facts. Simply put, these ten companies didn’t divulge this info; Greenpeace pieced together their data. It’s a bit dirty itself, actually.
Greenpeace applauds Yahoo’s practice of situating data centers near sources of clean energy. The report also notes that Yahoo no longer purchases carbon offsets and is striving towards energy efficiency with a self-set goal of reducing data center’s carbon intensity by at least 40% by 2014.
Still, it’s important to remember that Greenpeace admits it does not have all the facts here. The Transparency column grades these companies on their willingness to share energy data publicly. Understandably, most don’t want to share their energy and accompanying financial data.
Greenpeace does give something of approval to living in a “living in a massive data cloud” as it makes telecommuting more possible. Music bought via web service like iTunes also leaves a smaller carbon footprint than buying a cellophane-wrapped CD.
While so many of Apple’s products look like the epitome of “clean,” all silvery and white and shiny, look carefully and you might indeed find a little dirt.
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Photo by Yutaka Tsutano.