Why Amazon Is Tech’s Biggest Polluter

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Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) is taking a few lumps today in a new report from Greenpeace that claims that the some firms, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) base their electrical power purchases “solely on lowest electricity prices, without consideration to the impact their growing electricity footprints have on human health or the environment.” The report, titled “Clicking Clean: How Companies are Creating the Green Internet,” cites six major cloud computing brands that have committed to a goal of powering their data centers with 100% renewable energy.

According to a Greenpeace analysis demand for electricity from cloud data centers and networks will increase by 81% by the year 2020. If the Internet cloud were a country it would have been the sixth largest consumer of electricity in the world in 2011, ahead of all countries except the U.S. China, Japan, India, and Russia.

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The six are Apple Inc. (AAPL), Facebook Inc. (FB), Google Inc. (GOOG), Rackspace Hosting Inc. (RAX), Salesforce.com Inc. (CRM), and soon-to-be public Box Inc.

Amazon and Twitter Inc. (TWTR) wear the black hats:

[Amazon Web Services], which provides the infrastructure for a significant part of the internet, remains among the dirtiest and least transparent companies in the sector, far behind its major competitors, with zero reporting of its energy or environmental footprint to any source or stakeholder. Twitter lags in many of the same areas.

Amazon and Twitter each rack up three grades of “F” and one “D” out of four ranking categories.

The report calls out Amazon’s data centers in Boardman, Oregon, as an example. Amazon’s power supplier grew so large that it is bound by state law to generate more electricity from renewable sources. The power company financed a ballot-initiative to allow 60-year old dams to be counted among renewable sources and was finally successful earlier this year in gaining a legislative exception allowing it to avoid having to invest in renewable energy sources. Through it all, Amazon sat on its hands according to Greenpeace, “exerting none of its leverage as one of [Umatilla Electric Cooperative’s] biggest customers to pressure the utility to call off its assault on the law.”

Coal, which still accounts for about 40% of U.S. electricity generation, and remains Greenpeace’s “chief culprit for global greenhouse gas pollution.” Natural gas is better, but not renewable and that counts against it as a fuel, even in fuel cells. Buying electricity from hydropower sources is better still, but it “does not lead to investment in new renewable energy capacity and large hydropower projects can have detrimental effects on local environments.” Nuclear power is too expensive and the money is better spent on clean renewable sources of power.

And the cleanest company in the cloud, according to Greenpeace, is Apple which has committed to operating its data centers entirely with renewable power sources

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