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Greenpeace claims Apple, Amazon guilty of dirty cloud computing


(CBS News) Greenpeace came out swinging against technology companies, including Apple and Amazon, for alleged poor energy policies.

Greenpeace released a report Tuesday called "How Clean is Your Cloud?" The environmental advocacy group graded 14 companies: Akami, Amazon, Apple, Dell, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Rackspace, Salesforce, Twitter and Yahoo.

So how did they rank? According to Greenpeace's grading system, Amazon got an "F" in renewables and advocacy, transparency and infrastructure siting. They got "D" in energy efficiency.

"Amazon Web Services 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," the Greenpeace report said. The online retail giant was quick to push back at Greenpeace for flaws in their report.

"As we communicated to this researcher several weeks ago, we don't disclose this information publicly, but this data and assumptions about Amazon are inaccurate," an Amazon spokesperson told CBS News via email.

"Amazon Web Services believes that cloud computing is inherently more environmentally friendly than traditional computing."

Full coverage of Amazon at Tech Talk

Amazon's argument is that because they offer a cloud service solution for smaller companies, they essentially eliminate the need for "hundreds of thousands" of separate data centers.

Greenpeace also gave Apple a "D" in renewables and advocacy, transparency and energy efficiency. The computer giant scored an "F" in infrastructure siting.

Apple pushed back saying that Greenpeace's numbers were exaggerated. For instance, Greenpeace claims that Apple's Maiden, N.C. data center will consume 100 megawatts of energy.

The company released this statement in response to Greenpeace's allegations:

"Our data center 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. We believe this industry-leading project will make Maiden the greenest data center ever built, and it will be joined next year by our new facility in Oregon running on 100% renewable energy."

Apple recently released their 2012 facilities report, which detailed improvements mentioned to the massive Maiden data center.

Full coverage of Apple at Tech Talk
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Google and Yahoo scored comparatively better, with "B" averages. Greenpeace singled out both companies for taking "meaningful steps to steer their infrastructure investments toward cleaner energy." However, the advocacy group points out that replacing "dirty sources of electricity with clean renewable sources [are] still the crucial missing link in the sector's sustainability efforts."

Greenpeace admits their methodology is based on estimates and works around the lack of data by created their own metric called the Clean Energy Index. It's worth noting that only the individual companies in question can accurately report their own energy usage.

While the report should be read with some skepticism, it raises excellent questions. As our data increasingly moves to the cloud, how can we measure the environmental impact of the data centers that are essential to future of technology?

Read the full report at Greenpeace's website.

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