Greenpeace Activists Picket Apple HQ In “iPod” Survival Dome

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Apple faces Greenpeace pressure to power its iCloud with renewable energy

Two Greenpeace activists picketed Apple’s Cupertino headquarters inside a survival dome yesterday, broadcasting tweets in protest at the company’s use of energy produced from coal.

The Clean Our Cloud protest follows an earlier Greenpeace action in North Carolina, which stopped and “rebranded” a coal train bound for utility company Duke Energy, whose electricity Apple uses in its iCloud data centre in Maiden, North Carolina.

Dirty iCloud, dirty protest?

Two protesters barricaded themselves inside an eight-foot tall, ten-foot wide survival device previously used in protests to prevent Arctic drilling, which was decked out with an Apple logo and referred to as an “iPod” for the duration. With the pod in place outside Apple’s HQ, the activists read out social media messages from people around the world, through loudspeakers, asking Apple employees and executives  to power its iCloud with clean energy instead of coal.

“Apple’s executives have thus far ignored the hundreds of thousands of people asking them to use their influence for good by building a cloud powered by renewable energy,” said Greenpeace USA director Phil Radford. “As Apple’s customers, we love our iPhones and iPads, but we don’t want to use an iCloud fueled by the smog of dirty coal pollution.”

The protest also featured four activists dressed as iPhones with TV screens in their torsos flashing more Twitter and Facebook messages from supporters. The previous night, Greenpeace had projected tweets and photos onto a wall of Apple’s headquarters.

Earlier in May, the Clean Our Cloud campaign stopped a train carrying coal to a power plant in North Carolina run by Duke Energy, which provides electricity for the local grid – indirectly supplying Apple’s data centre in Maiden, NC with power.

Greenpeace’s campaign against Apple dates back to 2010 and the launch of the iPad, when Greenpeace forecast the device would drive an increase in cloud data centres and the demand for energy to run them. However, Greenpeace itself has been criticised for using dirty power, and others have pointed out that its own annual report does not include the sort of environmental audit which Greenpeace wants to see from other companies.

Meanwhile, Apple has invested in both solar power and fuel cells to provide some renewable energy for its data centres. The company has announced a solar power farm which will provide up to 20MW for its Maiden data centre, and also revealed it is buying fuel cells from Bloom Energy. Observers such as Amazon’s James Hamilton have questioned the value of these efforts and Apple has defended itself – but has not released actual energy use figures.

“Apple has made a limited investment in renewable energy to provide a part of the current power for its data centre in North Carolina, but as the facility expands and outgrows this supply, more and more electricity will be provided by coal-fired power plants from Duke Energy,” said a Greenpeace statement.

Greenpeace International’s recent report, “How Clean is Your Cloud?” praised Google and Yahoo’s clean energy efforts, but criticised Apple, Amazon and Microsoft.

Apple has responded to TechWeekEurope’s request for comments,  drawing our attention to a recently produced facilities report on the Maiden site and to Apple’s various renewable energy projects. Apple has promised that its next data centre, in Prinevill Oregon, will use 100 percent renewable energy.

Do you know about the cloud? Try our quiz