Greenpeace Admits Using ‘Dirty’ Power

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Greenpeace has admitted that its hosting operations are powered by coal and nuclear power, after it criticised Facebook for building a coal-powered data centre

There are red faces over at Greenpeace International, after the environmental organisation took Facebook to task last month over a data centre it is building in Oregon that will use mostly coal-based electricity.

Greenpeace’s beef with Facebook’s data centre was that it is not using renewable energy, which led the environmental group to reportedly say that “the only truly green data centres are the ones running on renewable energy.”

Greenpeace even created a Facebook group called “Tell Facebook to use Clean Energy for its Data Center.”

However, that sentiment has come back to haunt Greenpeace after the organisation admitted in an interview with Data Center Knowledge, that most of Greenpeace’s hosting operations are actually housed in data centres powered primarily by coal and nuclear power.

According to Data Center Knowledge, Greenpeace hosts its main website in a Global Switch data centre in Amsterdam. Apparently Greenpeace chose the site because Global Switch bought renewable energy certificates (RECs) to offset the carbon output of its data centre facility.

Data Center Knowledge also pointed out that Greenpeace has a number of servers in a colocation centre in northern Virginia. Most data centres in northern Virginia are thought to be supplied by Dominion Virginia Power, which gets 46 percent of its production from coal, 41 percent from nuclear, 8 percent from natural gas, and just 4 percent of its power from renewable generation.

Gary Cook, a Climate Policy Advisor for the Greenpeace CoolIT Campaign, told Data Center Knowledge that Greenpeace is trying to run the greenest operation it can. “We’re buying RECs because we want to put our money where our mouth is,” he said. He also pointed out that the US operations of Greenpeace include about 30 servers housed in its Washington D.C. office, which is supported by wind power purchased from West Virginia.

In Greenpeace’s defence, it feels that the data centre industry’s largest power users have a higher obligation to utilise renewable energy to power their servers, and that Facebook has a much bigger energy choice to make because of the size of its data centres.

And by criticising Facebook, it has gained valuable publicity by making renewable energy a front-of-mind issue for large companies building new data centres.

Greenpeace has certainly been busy of late. It recently stepped up its campaign against the illegal export of waste electronics to Africa and other continents, and it also regularly publishes a report that names and shames various tech vendors over the toxic substances used in their equipment and hardware.