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Summary:

Apple came in at the bottom of a new report from Greenpeace detailing the energy choices made by major IT companies like Amazon, Google Facebook and more. Apple fared so poorly mostly because of its brand new data center in North Carolina.

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Apple came in at the bottom of a new report from Greenpeace (being presented at Green:Net Thursday) detailing the energy choices made by major IT companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook and more. The report, called “How dirty is your data?”, scores 10Internet companies on how reliant they are on fossil fuels to power their data centers. Apple fared so poorly mostly because of its brand new data center in coal-rich North Carolina.

According to the report, the new $1 billion dollar data facility that Apple has built and is expected to start using this spring, is one of the worst offenders in the world when it comes to power consumption, both in terms of sheer volume of power required, and in how clean that energy is. The facility will use as much as 100 MW of electricity when it opens, according to Greenpeace, which is the same as around 80,000 homes in the U.S., or 250,000 in the E.U. That energy comes from a grid that uses less than five percent clean energy, with the rest coming from dirty sources that Greenpeace sees as most ecologically harmful and dangerous, like coal and nuclear.

Apple data center choices led to it receiving the lowest clean energy index of all companies rated, with just a 6.7 percent rating. Yahoo topped the list with 55.9 percent clean energy, while Google and Amazon also ranked highly with 36.4 and 26.8 percent, respectively. Apple at least received a higher score in the categories of transparency and mitigation strategy, however, beating out other companies near the bottom like Facebook and Twitter.

Greenpeace acknowledges that in many ways cloud computing can save energy (like by replacing physical disc-based purchases with digital downloads, as Katie mentioned yesterday), but it also advises that focusing on efficiency runs the risk of ignoring the impact of clean vs. dirty energy, which is still a crucial component missing from the tech sector’s sustainability efforts.

Accounting for the energy impact of IT is tricky, as Greenpeace points out in its report, so making too much of these numbers at first blush probably isn’t advisable. Apple also actually hasn’t even started using its N.C. data center, so it’s entirely possible that the estimated energy picture Greenpeace used won’t accurately reflect the in-use figures. But the point is well made that cloud computing’s impact needs to be taken into account when we consider the footprint of tech companies, especially as it moves towards becoming the dominant computing model.

  1. Wow. The center isn’t operational or online and Greenpeace can’t WAIT to spout of fictitious numbers. I’m not even sure why this gets press.

  2. Apple’s data center isn’t even operational, and thus is not using up much power. Yet Greenpeace can spout this off based on speculation and location. Duh.

    Greenpeace is primarily interested in making publicity AND MONEY for itself.

    To get off Greenpeace’s bad list, a company has to GIVE MONEY to Greenpeace – essentially paying off money like what the Mafia use to require from business owners. Apple refuses to pay off Greenpeace, unlike the others on Greenpeace’s good list.

  3. Hey guess what green peace, nobody cares.

  4. Once again the fanbois ,like the three monkeys ,see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil where Apple is concerned. Well guys, I have news for you. Disregarding climate effects, coal fired generator produce at least 1/3 of the Mercury that makes many fish from Eastern lakes a no-no for pregnant women. Then there is acid rain, smog that veils the Blueridge at certain times and lots of other heavy metals, particularly in the coal ash dumps which seep into ground water. So get your heads out of the sand and look at the damage caused by coal fired generators. The life you save may be your kids.

  5. Sorry but the grid is more far reaching and elastic than that. What would be interesting, if they could ever figure it out, would be the efficiency of the servers, routers, drives etc. In each center. If NC has outdated, hydro-carbon burning power plants, then that is something for NC to deal with.

    Apple doesn’t make electricity, they use it. And they can be for how efficiently they use it. IMHO

  6. How can you tell it’s earning’s season? All the roaches come out of the woodwork with all kinds of crap:

    1) Greenpeace supposedly now concerned about data centers of all things; I guess they’ve lost the whale wars.

    2) Apple’s now tracking us. It took four years for someone researcher to figure this one out? Didn’t he/she watch the keynotes; like duh, you can turn it off.

    Are these people paid by Google to dig up crap???

  7. Wow, all the Apple apologetics came out for this one. And to attack Greenpeace, of all things.

    Think different!

  8. I agree, Think Different. Apple is sleek, makes sleek products, looks clean and has a good image. That’s not enough. The best corporate reputation in today’s economy is built on core business values. Those values need to embrace business sustainability and for me, as a long time Apple enthusiast and advocate, it’s devastating news to hear about this new data centre that runs on coal, contributing tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The second biggest demographic segment of Apple users are 17-25 year olds. Apple has a responsibility to the planet and to people – it’s called Corporate Social Responsibility. As a loyal customer with a 27″ iMac, a mac book pro, a mac book, iPhone and iPod + loads of mac gadgets, I want to be able to tell my friends and my family that the company whose products I buy and advocate are clean and responsible. I hate the short sighted comments about GreenPeace below. Get a grip.

  9. This infographic illustrates the impact of data center pollution on the envronment – http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2011/04/21/earth-day-infographic

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