Apple praised, Amazon shamed in Greenpeace report on clean energy

Amazon is among the last top IT companies to embrace clean energy like wind and solar, Greenpeace says in a new report that looks at the energy footprint across tech companies.

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Jennifer Van Grove covered the social beat for CNET. She loves Boo the dog, CrossFit, and eating vegan. Her jokes are often in poor taste, but her articles are not.
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Facebook's data center in Sweden. Facebook

As technology titans such as Apple, Google, and Facebook battle for the title of greenest data maker, one of the Internet's key players, Amazon, is ignoring the cause altogether and falling dangerously behind its peers, according to a new Greenpeace report.

The organization's new report, "Clicking Clean: How Companies are Creating the Green Internet," identifies Amazon, which runs Amazon Web Services (AWS) and plays host to a significant portion of the Internet, as one of the most egregious companies when it comes to using what the organization labels "dirty" energy, a category that includes nuclear and coal power, to run its massive centers.

Greenpeace scores IT companies on their energy footprint. Greenpeace

"Amazon's model has been getting the biggest market share possible even if it means working at low margins," David Pomerantz, a collaborating author on the report, told CNET.

Amazon's Web hosting business serves as the infrastructure for Netflix, which accounts for more than 31 percent of Internet traffic at peak times in North America, along with a number of name-brand companies such as Pinterest, Spotify, and Vine. It offers businesses a compellingly cheap cloud-computing option, but does at a significant cost to the environment, Greenpeace asserts.

"AWS continues to rapidly expand its global infrastructure without any apparent regard to environmental impact or access to renewable energy," Greenpeace said in its report.

Greenpeace measured AWS' Clean Energy Index at 15 percent, an estimate gathered from public reported data. The organization also gave Amazon an "F" grade for transparency, contending that the company does not report its energy or environmental footprint to any source.

An AWS spokesperson disputed the report's findings. "We agree with Greenpeace that technology leaders should help safeguard the environment by implementing both efficient use and clean sources of energy. However, Greenpeace's report, 'Clicking Green,' misses the mark by using false assumptions on AWS operations and inaccurate data on AWS energy consumption. We provided this feedback to Greenpeace prior to publishing their report," the spokesperson said in an e-mail.

Founded in 1972, Greenpeace is a not-for-profit, non-governmental environmental organization. Historically, the organization has campaigned against the worst climate offenders. In recent years, Greenpeace has turned its attention to making the Internet a greener place, where infrastructure is powered by renewable energy sources.

Apple, meanwhile, is lauded as the most improved company since Greenpeace's last report in 2012. As it stands, 100 percent of the Cupertino, Calif., company's data centers are powered by clean energy, which includes power sources such as wind and solar.

Even Facebook, once the subject of Greenpeace's displeasure, is now being celebrated for its efforts in working toward a clean energy footprint. In 2010, Greenpeace publicly chastised Facebook for building data centers powered by coal. Four years later, the environmental organization has changed its tune entirely, and is now holding up Facebook as the poster child for the green Internet movement.

Though Facebook, according to the report, has a Clean Energy Index of 49 percent -- meaning it's sourcing nearly half of its energy needs from clean sources -- Greenpeace gives Facebook "A" grades in transparency, its commitment to 100 percent renewable energy, and its overall energy efficiency.

"While many companies remain reluctant to provide facility-level information, Facebook sets a high bar for others to meet by allowing its users to follow the platform's progress toward becoming 100 percent renewably powered," Greenpeace said in its report.

Greenpeace's report takes an in-depth look at how 19 global IT companies are balancing their data storage needs with the environmental concerns that come along with having 2.5 billion people connected to the Internet. Overall, save for stragglers like Amazon, the not-for-profit company was pleased with how the IT industry is embracing renewable energy sources.

"While the Internet energy appetite is growing quickly, we're finding that for the first time, a growing number of technology leaders, led by Apple, Facebook, and Google, are working to power the Internet with 100 percent renewable energy -- and that is a major shift," Pomerantz said.

In addition to Apple and Facebook, Greenpeace applauded Box, Google, Rackspace, and Salesforce for their commitments to power data centers with 100 percent renewable energy.

Update, April 2 at 9:56 a.m. PT: Adds comment from AWS spokesperson.