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Apple Clean Cloud More Talk Than Walk: Greenpeace

Apple has yet to follow through on commitments to run its data centers using clean power, Greenpeace report says.

Thomas Claburn

July 12, 2012

3 Min Read

In the wake of reports that Apple has elected to stop submitting its products to the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) certification program, the company has come under fire for failing to follow up on commitments to promote clean cloud computing.

Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace, which on Wednesday chided Apple for withdrawing from EPEAT, on Thursday said Apple has been slow to act on its promise to power its data centers with renewable energy and to avoid power generated from coal.

Greenpeace has published a report, "A Clean Energy Road Map for Apple," that follows up on the organization's April "How Clean is Your Cloud?" report.

[ Read about GE's efforts to pilot "next-generation" batteries that run ten times longer at half the size. See iPads In Factories: Early Lessons From GE. ]

According to the report, Apple said in May that its North Carolina data center will be exclusively reliant on renewable power by year's end, and that all three of its major data centers will be coal-free by the end of 2013.

The report shows that Apple has made some improvements: Its "scorecard grades" have improved since April from D to C in the Energy Efficiency/Greenhouse Gas Migration and Renewables/Advocacy categories, and from F to D in the Infrastructure Siting category.

However, its grade for Energy Transparency remains a D. That isn't exactly surprising for a company had relies on secrecy to encourage press coverage. But it's a problem in terms of community engagement on environmental issues.

"Apple certainly has room for improvement in terms of transparency," said Gary Cook, senior policy analyst for Greenpeace International, in a phone interview. "They're very good in providing a narrative that talks about environmental leadership. But they need to provide the detail, to back up their claims."

According to Cook, Apple has been growing very quickly but its environmental commitments have not kept pace. He said that there's no connection between the timing of this followup report and news of Apple's withdrawal from EPEAT, a decision prompted by the company's prioritization of design over repairability and ease of disassembly.

Cook said Apple was making a false choice between design and recyclability. Apple's decision to stop seeking EPEAT certification for its products is "a step backwards from what had previously been quite good environmental leadership," he said. "We need to have these products last longer and be repairable."

But Cook also stressed that Greenpeace isn't singling out Apple, noting that the organization has also pushed Amazon and Microsoft to make their cloud computing operations more environmentally sustainable. "It's about the whole sector," he said.

One of Greenpeace's concerns is that Apple's lack of specificity about its definition of "renewable energy" means that Apple may opt to continue buying coal-derived power from Duke Energy and then buy North Carolina Renewable Energy Credits to be "coal-free" in name only.

In keeping with Greenpeace's view that Apple is insufficiently transparent, Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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