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Greenpeace protests Twitter, asks for 'commitment' to renewable energy

Outside Twitter's corporate headquarters in San Francisco, Greenpeace makes its plea for the social media company to "Make our tweets green."

Greenpeace calls on Twitter to "make our tweets green." Richard Nieva/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- Twitter employees saw their familiar mascot on their way into work on Wednesday, but the bird was probably greener than they are used to.

At least that's what Greenpeace would contend. The watchdog environmental group staged a demonstration at Twitter headquarters on Wednesday to protest what it sees as a lack of commitment to renewable energy. Greenpeace set up a large green egg display in front of Twitter's Market Street offices and had someone in a green Twitter logo costume hop around and chirp at passersby. At the bottom of the egg display, a sign read, "Make our tweets green."

The protest was in conjunction with a Greenpeace report released last week, called "Clicking Green," grading the big Internet companies on their environmental progress. Twitter got low marks across the board: F's for "energy transparency," "energy efficiency and mitigation," and renewable energy deployment and advocacy," and a D for "renewable energy commitment and siting policy."

Among the other big tech companies, Amazon also got chastised, with three F's and a D. Apple and Facebook got the highest marks, both with three A's and a B apiece. The study notes that 100 percent of Apple's data centers are powered by clean energy, which includes power sources such as wind and solar. Facebook, Box, Google, Rackspace, and Salesforce also were praised for their commitment to getting to 100 percent renewable energy-powered data centers.

Wednesday's protest was low key, not attracting more than 10 people at a time during the course of the demonstration, which lasted until 10 a.m. PT. Gary Cook, senior IT analyst at Greenpeace and lead author of the Clicking Green report, described the protest as "friendly." "We use Twitter at work all the time. We don't want them to go away," he said during an interview onsite. What he wants is for Twitter to take more of a stance in the shift to green power.

"As we build out our infrastructure, we continue to strive for even greater efficiency of operations. We welcome any constructive feedback that helps us get there," Twitter spokesperson Christina Thiry told CNET, in an email. Twitter employees on their way inside the office on Wednesday declined to comment.

Richard Nieva/CNET

Above all, Cook said, the protest was about demanding a commitment from Twitter to commit to using 100 percent clean power -- a pledge it hasn't yet made. "It's not going to happen overnight," he said. "This is a good first step." He said Twitter is particularly accountable because it is a fast-growing and fast-moving company, and one of the chief issues is the company's lack of transparency about its energy practices.

The focus on Twitter is also because of how influential the company is. "You and I can put solar panels on our houses, but that's not going to change the grid or shift investments. If you're building a data center that uses 50, 80, or 100 megawatts, that's a lot of power," he said.

Twitter's situation harkens back to Facebook's, he said. Greenpeace first started paying earnest attention to the tech sector in 2005, then focusing more on device manufacturing and e-waste. In 2010, the company also began paying attention to tech companies' data centers. That year, Greenpeace chastised Facebook for its plans to build a data center powered in part by coal. Four years later, Facebook is one of the leaders in the green Internet movement. He said he hopes Twitter will follow a similar path.

"We want tech companies to do what they are really good at doing: innovate," Cook said. That goes for environmental causes, too, he said.

Updated, 12:09 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Twitter