Green IT, renewable energy and sustainability - Greenpeace puts pressure on Apple and AWS

Greenpeace Head of IT Andrew Hatton believes the market is mature enough for enterprises to provide Green IT services powered by renewable energy, and hopes CIOs put pressure on cloud vendors like Amazon Web Services to be more transparent with their sustainability commitments.

The technology chief at the international environmental organisation praised Google and Facebook for their progress with renewables, but warned that it was still a struggle for tech vendors to establish a supply chain free of conflict minerals. [Greenpeace IT chief Andrew Hatton comments first published in August 2015]

Indeed, in March 2016 Greenpeace criticised Apple following the release of the company's 2015 supplier responsibility report, saying it lacks detail and that the company should be setting a better example reporting on its suppliers.

Apple is improving its suppy chain, Greenpeace said, but that it needed to provide more clarity and "set a greater example for the indusry" with about 70% of the company's footprint in its supply chain in facilities the company doesn't operate.

Renewable energy in the enterprise

Speaking in 2015 about sustainability and green energy, IT chief Hatton said that large tech companies were running out of excuses when it came to renewables.

"I think it's totally realistic for large enterprises to provide Green IT services," Hatton said. "Particularly, when it comes to data centres and hosting and cloud services.

"The technology is absolutely mature enough. We have seen a huge shift in the last couple of years in the tech sector towards renewables.

"Big companies like Apple, Google and Facebook are now powering large parts of their enterprises from renewable energy.

"They have proved that you can power enterprise class data centres with renewables, no question."

Indeed, in July 2015 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the social networking giant would be building its fifth data centre in Fort Worth, Texas, which was part of the company's plans to "create internet services at planetary scale". It would be one of the most advanced and energy efficient data centres in the world using 100% renewable energy while adding 200 megawatts of new wind energy to the Texas power grid - built using hardware designed and developed through the Open Compute Project, Zuckerberg said.

Amazon Web Services and Green IT

Amazon Web Services was an exception however, Hatton explained, saying that CIO customers of the Infrastructure-as-a-Service provider needed to put pressure on the cloud leader.

"Cloud software service providers such as and Box have made strong commitments towards renewable, and many other suppliers now offer Green hosting options.

"But AWS has been the odd one out here.

"Amazon's recent adoption of a 100% renewable energy goal while potentially significant, lacks basic transparency and, unlike similar commitments from Apple, Facebook or Google, does not yet appear to be guiding Amazon's investment decisions towards renewable energy and away from coal.

"Without knowing the details of Amazon's energy footprint, it's difficult for customers to take its recent commitment to 100% renewable energy seriously.

"Amazon is one of the last large IT companies not to disclose any information about its energy use or carbon footprint.

"We would encourage AWS customers to write to Amazon and ask them to commit to transparency on energy and environmental performance, including publishing information describing AWS' energy and carbon footprints and progress toward renewable energy goals."

Becoming carbon neutral

In early 2015, CIO at the University of St Andrews Steve Watt spoke to this title about the 600-year-old institution's commitment to become carbon neutral by 2016. Aside from the university's award-winning data centre which is bringing in savings against the sector average of £1.4 million over 10 years, St Andrews is also planning to install half a dozen two megawatt wind turbines and a biomass plant with the aim of being completely self-sufficient.

Watt said that the initiatives, stemming from the initial green data centre consolidation, has driven a cultural change across the department, university, and sparked interest across the world in how the university is operating.

"The senior management has confidence in IT, the students are involved in Green IT initiatives, and it's reduced our business risks," he said.

Hatton echoed the progressive strategy shown by St Andrews, saying that making your organisation greener was increasingly being seen as the better economic option.

The Greenpeace IT chief said: "Going green can increasingly save you money and help protect you from future energy shocks.

"Many companies are investing in green energy solutions both because ethically it's the right things to do, but increasingly, it also makes financial sense."

Putting pressure on cloud suppliers

Hatton said that CIOs who relied on third parties should be putting pressure on their vendors, and building procurement policies into their the tenders if they were committed to Green IT principles.

"We encourage companies to ask their suppliers where the energy which powers their services is coming from and to push them to provide more renewable energy," Hatton said. "Some colocation customers are already pushing their hosts to provide them with more renewable energy, and it's clear that their requests are having an impact. For example, Equinix, a leading colocation provider, committed to power its operations with 100% renewable energy, and has started to offer renewable energy options to customers.

"Companies that host in colocation and cloud environments can send a powerful signal to potential vendors by adopting procurement policies to work with vendors that demonstrate energy transparency and are committed to increasing their renewable energy supply.

"For their current vendors, cloud and colocation customers should advocate for renewable energy, lobbying them alongside peer customers if necessary. If their colocation or cloud vendors refuse to move in that direction, customers may eventually need to consider switching providers.

"Working with vendors in this way will take time and some effort, but companies should avoid being tempted by shortcut solutions, like purchasing carbon offsets or unbundled renewable energy credits. These actions may help a company's PR efforts to seem green, but they will not fundamentally change the mix of electricity powering the areas where they have operations."

Conflict minerals

In May 2015, the EU Parliament approved a draft regulation that would oblige companies to provide information on the use of conflict minerals sourced from war zones and areas where the mining and sales of minerals is often controlled by warlords. If implemented the rule rule could affect 880,000 EU companies that use tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold in manufacturing consumer products, the EU said - and which can also make up key components of data centres.

Watt said that use of conflict minerals was a concern for the politically active students at St Andrews, and Hatton said the technology executives and organisations should be making their own pledges to stem the flow of the murky supply chain.

Hatton said: "The law should make a big difference to the lives of those suffering from the consequences of the trade in conflict minerals.

"I would encourage CIOs of all companies to support this initiative, for example, by purchasing from suppliers who have made a strong commitment to  sourcing conflict free minerals in their equipment."

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

Security vs. innovation: IT's trickiest balancing act