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Does Greenpeace Even Get Tech?

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

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It is important to make IT greener, but we need a better watchdog than Greenpeace, says Peter Judge

Greenpeace is a diverse organisation that campaigns across a wide range of issues. It’s recently been weighing in on IT issues, which I initially thought was a good idea. Instead, its actions have undermined my confidence in the whole organisation.

The basic idea of holding organisations to account is good. But it needs to be fair, and Greenpeace seems to be out of its depth, applying standards inconsistently, protesting in the wrong places, and sometimes just missing the point.

Clouds that aren’t clear

Last week, Apple announced that its data centre in Maiden North Carolina would be using 100 percent renewable energy.

The news came just two days after Greenpeace blitzed Apple’s Cupertino headquarters with protesters dressed as iPhones, and critical tweets broadcast from a survival “pod” in front of the building. The protest was the culmination of a series of actions complaining that Apple’s data centre used “dirty” power generated by coal.

So a big win for Greenpeace? Well no, actually.

Even when  Greenpeace staged its protest, Apple was already running a pretty green ship. It had plans for the largest array of solar cells in the US, and a big set of fuel cells from Bloom Energy.

It was already greener than most of its rivals. On Thursday it announced it would double the solar power used in its data centre, and get all the remaining power from local renewable sources.

Now, that announcement didn’t happen overnight, so it is clear that Greenpeace was picketing a company that was already doing the right thing, and about to go one better.When Apple made its announcement, Greenpeace looked stupid – or, if you are extremely credulous, looked as if it had changed Apple.

Greenpeace maintains that it had no idea Apple’s announcement was coming, and says “in fact, we still think Apple has much more that they can achieve”.

Do as we say, not as we do

It’s not just this sort of inappropriate protest. Greenpeace also gets things wrong. It criticised Apple for a lack of openness, and for not having a specific policy for using green energy. Greenpeace itself has no such policy, no estimate of its own carbon footprint in its 2010-2011 annual report – although it does have an extensive statement about plans to use renewable anergy for its IT and cloud computing needs.

And in a previous guide (to Greener Electronics, not the cloud) Greenpeace has slated Apple for having no policies on things like the removal of pollutants like BFRs, lead and PVC from its kit, while marking up firms that have a plan to stop using those chemicals.

But, as it turned out, Apple had no policy for removing those chemicals, because it has already removed them.

It is important that cloud services are implemented efficiently as they are going to account for and increasing amount of our energy use. But there are already forces in place (economics and regulations) to push companies in the right direction, and groups like the Green Grid and Facebook’s Open Compute sharing knowledge.

I could see a role for an outside organisation keeping watch on whether companies are keeping up to the mark.

But on its current showing, Greenpeace is not it.

Do you know more about Green IT than Greenpeace does? Try our quiz