Apple Burned in Greenpeace Rankings Thanks to New Data Center

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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.

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