Apple decided not to remain silent when Greenpeace lumped it with Amazon and Microsoft in a mid-April "How Clean Is Your Cloud?" report that claimed all three heavily relied on "dirty utilities" like coal to power their cloud-running data centers.
Apple, normally tight-lipped in the face of media hype and public criticism, issued an uncharacteristically quick riposte to Greenpeace's PR offensive, with a statement about the energy sources for the data centersfacilities often referred to as "server farms"it's building in Maiden, N.C., and Oregon.
"Our data center in North Carolina will draw about 20 megawatts at full capacity, and we are on track to supply more than 60 percent of that power on-site from renewable sources including a solar farm and fuel cell installation, which will each be the largest of their kind in the country," Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokesperson told NPR in a statement. "We believe this industry-leading project will make Maiden the greenest data center ever built, and it will be joined next year by our new facility in Oregon running on 100 percent renewable energy."
According to an April 20 report from Wired, Apple has started construction on a 10,000-square-foot facility in Oregon, but recently also worked out a long-term agreement for a 160-acre plot outside of the town of Prineville, Ore., where it plans to build "a much larger facility, similar to what Facebook has already built," Jason Carr, the town's economic development manager, told Wired.
In its report Greenpeace described the data centers as "the factories of the 21st century information age," with some consuming the energy equivalent of 180,000 homes. "Three of the largest IT companies building their business around the cloudAmazon, Apple and Microsoftare all rapidly expanding without adequate regard to source of electricity, and rely heavily on dirty energy to power their clouds."
On a company "Scorecard," Greenpeace gave Apple a D for Energy Transparency, an F in Infrastructure Siting and D's in both Energy Efficiency and Renewables & Advocacy.
"[Apple] has invested at least $1bn in an 'iDataCenter' in North Carolina, one of the world's largest data centers, and just announced another facility to be built in Prineville, Oregon. Unfortunately, both of these investments are powered by utilities that rely mostly on coal power," Greenpeace wrote, explaining the grades.
"Given the lack of transparency, siting policy or a clear commitment to power the iCloud with renewable energy, Apple is finding itself behind other companies such as Facebook and Google who are angling to control a bigger piece of the cloud," it continued. "Instead of playing catch up, Apple has the ingenuity, on-hand cash and innovative spirit to Think Different and make substantial improvements in the type of energy that powers its cloud."
It's possible that, as it has before, Greenpeace was deliberately provoking Apple. In an asterisk under the Scorecard, it admitted it didn't actually have all the details on Apple.
"Both [Amazon Web Service] and Apple were provided facility power demand estimates to review, both responded they were not correct, but neither provided alternative estimates," Greenpeace wrote. "Using conservative calculations, Greenpeace has used the best information available to derive power demand and has decided to publish and invite AWS and Apple to be transparent and provide more accurate data for their facility demands."
In 2004, Greenpeace launched a campaign to not just reduce electronic waste but to get manufacturers to remove the worst toxic substances from their products. In 2006, it went after Apple directly, launching a "Green My Apple" site that mimicked Apple's own but with a banner that read: "We love our Macs. We just wish they came in green."
Apple decided to bite, wrote Greenpeace's Tom Dowdall in an Oct. 6, 2011, blog post, after waking to the news of Steve Jobs' passing. While it's safe to say Jobs wasn't a Greenpeace fan, Dowdall wrote, in 2007 he made a promise to phase out the most hazardous substances from Apple products.
"In 2008 Apple led the industry with the first computers virtually free of toxic PVC and BFRs," Dowdall explained. "He clearly understood the value to Apple of being the first. Today, all Apple products are free of these hazardous substances and where Apple led, HP, Acer and others have followed. That alone made Steve Jobs ultimately a valuable ally in the fight for a toxics-free future."
Clearly, Greenpeace understands the value of nudging (needling?) Apple.
"We need many more leaders like Jobs at the top of global companies," wrote Dowdall, "who have the vision, drive and personality to deliver real solutions to the environmental challenges of today."