Greenpeace Chides Apple for 'Dirty Data'

Apple has come in for stern criticism in environmental group Greenpeace's "How Dirty is your Data" report, issued this week.

The focus of Greenpeace's ire is a new data center in North Carolina. North Carolina's electricity grid is largely powered by coal and according to the group Apple's decision to locate the data center there shows "a lack of a corporate commitment to clean energy supply for its cloud operations".

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Greenpeace said that along with Google and Facebook, Apple makes up part of "North Carolina's dirty data triangle."

"Apple has been steadily adding to its online offerings, which can be delivered via the cloud from its iTunes platform. Following the phenomenal success of the iPad, the soon-to-be-completed US$1 billion 'iDataCenter' in North Carolina indicates that Apple is moving to significantly increase its cloud-based offerings to iPhone and iPad customers," Greenpeace's report states.

"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 on the current or expected impacts of its online products. Though 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," it continues.

According to Greenpeace, Apple is looking for cheap power supplies and turning a blind eye to its environmental impact.

"Apple's decision to locate its iDataCenter in North Carolina, which has an electrical grid 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 Virginia46, where electricity is 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," Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace did concede that Apple has made changes for the better in terms of its carbon footprint but said that much more needed to be done.

"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.47 However, 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 How Dirty is your Data report reads.

Greenpeace has focused many of its recent reports on the carbon footprint of cloud computing, challenging the idea that manufacturing industries are the biggest polluters in the world of technology.

In 2009 Apple launched a special website to explain its environmental policies, pointing out that the company's facilities in Austin, Texas, Sacramento, California, and Cork, Ireland, are 100 percent powered by renewable energy.

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