Greenpeace slams Amazon over green datacentre efforts

AWS and Apple have come bottom on Greenpeace's green datacentre scorecard over their meagre use of renewable energy, while Google, Yahoo and Facebook come in for praise
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

Amazon Web Services and Apple have come under fire from Greenpeace for their datacentres not being green enough, though the advocacy group has praised sustainability efforts by Google, Facebook and Yahoo.

Facebook datacentre Lulea

Greenpeace has assessed the green energy efforts of major IT companies' datacentres. Pictured: Facebook's datacentre in Lulea, Sweden, under construction. Image credit: Facebook

In the How green is your cloud report, published on Tuesday, Greenpeace slammed Apple, Amazon and Microsoft for the meagre amount of clean energy their datacentres use and their "transparency" regarding their infrastructure. Amazon got the worst report card overall, while Google and Akamai were the only companies on the list to be awarded an A grade, for the use of renewable energy and advocacy of green technologies, and energy transparency, respectively.

Three of the largest IT companies building their business around the cloud — Amazon, Apple and Microsoft — are all rapidly expanding without adequate regard to source of electricity.
– Greenpeace

"Three of the largest IT companies building their business around the cloud — Amazon, Apple and Microsoft — are all rapidly expanding without adequate regard to source of electricity, and rely heavily on dirty energy to power their clouds," Greenpeace said in its report (PDF).

"Yahoo and Google both continue to lead the sector in prioritising access to renewable energy in their cloud expansion, and both have become more active in supporting policies to drive greater renewable energy investment," it added.

Greenpeace assessed 14 of the world's largest IT companies across four metrics: energy transparency; infrastructure siting; energy efficiency and greenhouse-gas mitigation; and renewables and advocacy. It also provided a breakdown of their use of coal, nuclear and clean energy. Apple and Amazon were ranked the worst.

However, in its consideration of power usage, Greenpeace made estimates about Apple and Amazon's consumption. The organisation provided its assumed figures for the companies to review, and both said these were incorrect, but declined to provide their own.

AWS reviewed

Amazon Web Services was given an F for transparency, an F for infrastructure siting, a D for efficiency and an F for renewables and advocacy.

"AWS has seen tremendous growth over the past year, but fails to disclose information on its environmental footprint at either a company-wide or facility level," Greenpeace wrote. "AWS is tight-lipped when it comes to the details of the energy sourcing for its datacentres, [though] a recent analysis indicates that the vast majority – over two thirds – of the servers powering the AWS E2 Elastic Computing cloud computing platform are based in datacentres in northern Virginia, an area where the grid is particularly coal-heavy."

The Amazon cloud division recently opened a new datacentre in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Greenpeace said that despite its "significant size and resources", it did not appear to have bought or invested in renewable energy for its facilities.

In response, Amazon criticised Greenpeace's approach, saying that the net environmental benefits of cloud computing outweigh the green costs of large datacentres.

"Instead of each company having their own datacentre that serves just them, AWS makes it possible for hundreds of thousands of companies to consolidate their datacentre use into a handful of datacentres in the AWS Cloud, resulting in much higher utilisation rates and eliminating the waste that occurs when datacentres don't operate near their capacity," an Amazon Web Services spokesperson told ZDNet UK. "The cloud enables a combined smaller carbon footprint that significantly reduces overall consumption."

Apple's ranking

Apple was ranked poorly, particularly for its datacentre siting — F — and its use of clean energy — 15.3 percent. Greenpeace said Apple's planned solar power plant for its Maiden datacentre in North Carolina "will only cover 10 percent of their total generation for the datacentre."

However, Apple disputed this in a statement on the Greenpeace report seen by Datacentre Knowledge.

"Our datacentre in North Carolina will draw about 20 megawatts at full capacity, and we are on track to supply more than 60 percent of that power on-site from renewable sources including a solar farm and fuel cell installation which will each be the largest of their kind in the country," Apple said in the statement. "We believe this industry-leading project will make Maiden the greenest datacentre ever built, and it will be joined next year by our new facility in Oregon running on 100-percent renewable energy."

Google gets an A

Meanwhile, Greenpeace praised Yahoo, Facebook and Google for their decision to build highly efficient datacentres and obtain power from renewable sources. Particular attention was paid to Facebook's datacentre in Lulea, Sweden, which makes use of the country's datacentre-friendly climate to use a lot of free cooling.

"Google has been the most open in the industry about the importance of increasing not only energy efficiency within the sector, but also the need to move our energy sources to renewable energy," Greenpeace wrote. "Google has made significant efforts to increase the company's transparency. This is a great step forward that will enable better awareness of energy and carbon management associated with data consumption."

The other companies assessed were Akamai, Dell, HP, IBM, Oracle, Rackspace, Salesforce, Twitter and Yahoo.

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