Apple Produces the Dirtiest Data: Greenpeace Report

According to a report from an environmental group, Apple produces some of the dirtiest data in the world.

A report from environmental watchdog Greenpeace found that although Apple has become increasingly transparent about the environmental footprint and operational performance of its products, especially laptops and iPhones, it has not been as forthcoming about the current or expected impacts of its online products. Its research revealed that while many IT companies have pointed to the benefits of downloading entertainment over traditional delivery methods, one of the largest online destinations for such media-iTunes-does not provide any data to evaluate these claims or allow comparison with offerings from other vendors, and Apple does participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project voluntary reporting program.

Greenpeace researchers found that Apple previously touted its operations in California as much cleaner than those that use energy produced on the average grid. However, Apple's decision to locate its iDataCenter in North Carolina, which has an electrical grid that is among the dirtiest in the country (61 percent coal, 31 percent nuclear), indicates a "lack of a corporate commitment to clean energy supply" for its cloud operations.

"The fact that the alternative location for Apple's iDataCenter was Virginia, where electricity also comes from very dirty sources, is an indication that, in addition to tax incentives, access to inexpensive energy, regardless of its source, is a key driver in Apple's site selection," the report said.

The report also noted that while Apple has reported a significant increase in the amount of clean energy it has purchased for its operations in the past two years and has said that it will continue to look for sources of renewable energy and buy green power wherever it can be found, Apple has not declared a renewable energy or greenhouse gas target to shape this commitment.

"The massive iDataCenter has estimated electricity demand (at full capacity) as high as triple Apple's current total reported electricity use, which will unfortunately have a significant impact on Apple's environmental footprint," the report stated.

Among major cloud brands, Google talks the best and most consistently about the need to not only increase efficiency, but to also move to renewable sources of electricity to power the cloud, the report said. "But if Google is serious about climate leadership, it should open source its emissions footprint, confess to the world that it has a carbon problem, and put its mitigation strategies on the table so others in the sector can learn from and build on them," the report noted.

Google only publicly acknowledges the existence of seven data centers globally, though informed estimates place Google's fleet in the range of 20 to 30 data centers. The report also noted Google fails to disclose information on its energy use or GHG emissions, though it claims to be carbon neutral through the purchasing of carbon offsets and renewable energy. "Google needs to be transparent about the size and growth of its carbon problem, and follow in the footsteps of other companies that have set absolute reduction targets," the report said. "Google does participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project voluntary reporting program, but provides very little actual data on its operational footprint or energy use."