Greenpeace Gives Apple Improved (But Still Poor) Cloud Grade

A Green AppleGreenpeace released a new report Thursday that gives Apple a higher grade for its cloud energy consumption, but still leaves Apple behind some of its peers, including Dell, Facebook, Google, Akamai, and HP. Apple went from two Fs and two Ds to two Ds and two Cs based on updated information Apple has released in recent months.

Greenpeace has leaned on Apple hard on various aspects, in part because Apple has such a heightened presence in the media compares to every other tech company on the planet. For Apple’s cloud-related facilities, the environmental group gave Apple failing grades for transparency and infrastructure siting, and slightly better grades for efficiency and its commitment to using renewable energy.

Since that initial Greenpeace report, Apple has publicly committed to having its massive North Carolina data center use 100% renewable energy by February of 2013. The company also committed to launching a new data center being built in Oregon meeting that same standard. Apple has also announced solar power and a fuel cell installation at the center that will provide much of the facility’s power.

To Greenpeace, this is all well and good, but the group said that a lot of questions must still be answered before they will believe that Apple can hit those goals. The group wrote in its new report that:

This new ambition to be ‘coal free’ is welcome news for the 125 million current iCloud users, and represents a significant improvement in Apple’s energy choices,” the company wrote in its report. “However, many details and questions remain about how Apple will achieve its 100% renewable goal from the public dialogue Greenpeace International has had with the company.

Two of Apple’s three current data centres operate in regions that are 50-60% coal powered, and will require significant new investment or a clear decision by Apple to buy electricity from cleaner sources in order to be considered coal free. Such changes for the electricity supply chain for Apple’s data centre in North Carolina in particular are not likely to occur overnight.

Still, Apple’s efforts were enough to get improved scores, as shown in the chart below. Both F scores have been improved to Ds, while the two Ds have been bumped to Cs.

Greenpeace Chart

Source: Greenpeace
(Click the chart for a larger version)

Greeenpeace is also recommending that Apple customers (that care about these issues) ask six things of Apple, including:

  • Choose a renewable-powered local utility for its Oregon data centre, not buy renewable energy credits from coal-powered Pacific Power.

  • Use renewable electricity from onsite generation to directly power its North Carolina facility, and use grid power solely for backup, rather than selling its renewable electricity to Duke Energy.

  • Secure a sustainable source of biogas to directly power its fuel cells for North Carolina.

  • Retire renewable energy credits from electricity generated onsite in North Carolina

  • Invest directly in new renewable energy generation in North Carolina rather than buying renewable credits to “green” Duke Energy’s dirty electricity.

  • Demand Duke Energy eliminate its mountaintop coal removal operations from Apple’s electricity supply chain, and demand that Duke invest in new renewable energy generation capacity, not retrofitting and extending the lifetime of dirty coal plants.

  • Adopt a data centre siting policy that prioritizes access to renewable energy for any future iCloud data centres.

In the meanwhile, some conservatives are furious with Apple for all this green nonsense. For instance, the National Center for Public Policy Research has worked hard to make the case that Apple’s purchase of the fuel cell generator represents a conflict of interest for Apple board member Al Gore. A shareholder proposal by the conservative front group to advance this conspiracy theory at Apple’s 2012 shareholder meeting garnered a whopping 1.9 percent of the vote.

So, it seems that Apple can’t win when it comes to groups at either end of the fringe. Environmentalist want Apple doing ever-more, while (some) conservatives can’t stand it that Apple does anything at all. Shareholders, however, seem to be fairly pleased with Apple’s actions. Such is the life of being the world’s most valuable corporation.

You can find more information in Greenpeace’s full report.