Trendspotting: Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of the Cloud

Did the Greenpeace “Clean our Cloud” campaign nudge Apple toward a stronger environmental stance?

Greenpeace demands a cleaner iCloud at Apple's corporate campus.

Since April, the environmental organization Greenpeace has had a bull’s-eye on Apple in its campaign to clean up the Internet “Cloud” that stores our music, apps, and photos. It’s accused Apple of using high-carbon “dirty fuels” like coal to power its new data center in North Carolina and has used dramatic pranks and slick videos to get consumers involved.

Last week, members of Greenpeace barricaded themselves in a giant iPod at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters and dressed as giant iPhones to demand a cleaner iCloud. Two days later, in a rare demonstration of transparency, Apple released a detailed statement explaining how its new data center would be 100% green. The whole drama made me curious to learn how the Cloud’s power source and growth could impact the environment.

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Greenpeace Urges Facebook to “Unfriend Coal”

Greenpeace gives Facebook a deadline to clean up its act…on Facebook.

Navajo Generating Station, a coal plant, located near Lake Powell in AZ (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

With its stepped-up “Facebook: Unfriend Coal” campaign, Greenpeace is calling on the Palo Alto-based company to become coal-free by 2021, to be transparent about its carbon footprint, and to advocate for clean energy sources at all levels of government. And it wants a public commitment by April, 22: Earth Day.

“We’re saying, ‘Look, you’re being looked at as a leader in the technology space, and the corporate space, and to be using 19th century technology to power your 21st century company doesn’t make sense,” said Casey Harrell of Greenpeace.

Facebook drew some criticism last January when it announced plans to construct a data center in Oregon.  Despite high efficiency standards and plans for facility-wide LEED Gold certification, environmental groups protested the data center’s energy source; a utility that is powered largely by burning coal. Continue reading

Postcard to Poznan

3088850070_5a89257718_m.jpgThe United States might not have an international reputation as a leader in the fight against climate change, but on Saturday a few hundred San Franciscans came out to Crissy Field to tell the world that times are changing.

Environmental groups declared December 6th the Global Day of Action, selected, as it has been for the last three years, to coincide with the United Nations climate talks. This year’s talks are currently taking place in Poznan, Poland.

Organized by Greenpeace, the crowd in San Francisco held up a 50 x 30 ft “postcard” that read: “Dear World Leaders, We are ready to save the climate! Yes we can!” against the backdrop of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

A helicopter flew overhead at 1 p.m., taking photos of the banner and the crowd. Ben Smith, Greenpeace’s National Organizer for Global Warming, said that the group plans to send the photos to delegates at the talks in Poznan (it’s gotta be cheaper than sending the postcard) as a symbol that despite the last eight years of inaction, Americans are serious about finding solutions for climate change.

“We are at a really significant point in history now, after eight years of the Bush Administration denying global warming and dismantling the UN process for stopping it,” said Smith. “The door has swung wide open, and we have the opportunity to solve the problem.”

Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Palm Beach, and several other cities across the country held similar demonstrations, said Anna Wagner, Greenpeace Global Warming Senior Organizer.

“We are trying to put pressure on our leaders to pass strong science-based solutions to global warming,” said Wagner. “The United States is key to stopping global warming, and we are sending a message to the Obama Administration that this is a number one priority for Americans.”

Many environmentalists are optimistic about Obama’s plans to invest billions in alternative energy and to place mandatory caps on greenhouse gases across the country similar to those already mandated in California. As we have reported here, Obama recently said in his video address to the Governors’ Climate Summit that he will work for “a new era of global cooperation on climate change.”

But some are raising questions about whether Obama’s plans go far enough. A recent article in Time Magazine cites a November 12th International Energy Agency (IAE) report projecting that a $26 trillion investment in power-supply needs will be needed to address a 45 percent increase in the demand for energy between 2006 and 2030, if no new government policies are enacted.

It appears that Obama will promote new policies that may mitigate this scenario but the challenge may be greater than it was a few months ago. With half a million jobs lost last month and regular gasoline at $1.69 a gallon in San Francisco, large scale investment in new low-carbon industries might be a harder sell.