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Greenpeace stages energy protest at Pinterest HQ

Activists hand out cupcakes and coffee to Pinterest employees in bid to press company's management to use greener energy to power its Internet business.

Greenpeace activists in front of Pinterest's San Francisco headquarters. Josh Miller/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- Handing out coffee and cupcakes to about 100 Pinterest employees as they came to work here, Greenpeace activists held a demonstration on Tuesday morning to protest the company's slow embrace of greener sources of energy.

This was the latest turn in a larger Greenpeace campaign to pressure tech companies to use cleaner energy sources. In early April, the organization issued a report giving its worst ranking to Amazon, which runs Amazon Web Services (AWS), because, according to Greenpeace, Amazon uses nuclear, gas, and coal power to run its data centers. Greenpeace followed that up by hiring a blimp to fly over Silicon Valley singling out specific companies, including Pinterest, which Greenpeace said powered their operations with polluting energy.

Like a growing number of Internet companies, Pinterest relies on AWS, which Greenpeace said uses just 15 percent renewable energy. Amazon said Greenpeace's report was inaccurate and that the AWS Cloud was "inherently more energy efficient than traditional computing that depends on small, inefficient, and over-provisioned datacenters." (See Amazon's full comment below)

Barry Schnitt, a Pinterest spokesman, said the company agrees with Greenpeace's sentiments, but added that the projected expenses it would shoulder to use cleaner sources remained too high.

"It's certainly a long-term goal of ours but right now, all these things are out of our price range," Schnitt said. "We're dependent on third parties for infrastructure. We're certainly thinking about our future infrastructure and what makes business sense and that includes environmental concerns."

With an estimated 70 million people creating 750 million boards and 30 billion pins, Pinterest clearly is consuming energy at a rapid clip. Greenpeace hopes to pressure the company to follow the lead of Apple, Facebook and Google, which have pledged to use 100 percent renewable energy to power their Internet operations.

"They're not Apple yet but they're not in a garage startup either," said Greenpeace spokesman David Pomerantz, who was on coffee and cupcake duty this morning. "They're growing fast and companies are best served when they start to make these commitments early in their growth. The sooner they can start, the better off they'll be."

During the morning demonstration, Greenpeace also set up a couple of pinboards on the street with real "pins" that came with the message, "Make Our Pins Green." After all, it was Pinterest.

Update: 2:29 PM: An Amazon spokesperson sent the following comment:

"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.

"We work hard on our own, and together with our power providers all over the world, to offer AWS Cloud services in an environmentally friendly way in all of our Regions. AWS operates efficient and highly utilized datacenters across 10 different Regions globally, two of which (Oregon and GovCloud Regions) use 100% carbon-free power. We like offering customers the choice of being able to run carbon-free, and we love doing it without charging a premium over other North American regions.

Running IT infrastructure on the AWS Cloud is inherently more energy efficient than traditional computing that depends on small, inefficient, and over-provisioned datacenters. With AWS, customers can reduce their overall consumption of IT resources while also improving utilization. Collectively, AWS customers are the driving force in this effort by eliminating hundreds of thousands of individual datacenters worldwide, along with the associated wasted capacity and overprovisioned energy."