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Dear EarthTalk: Why is Greenpeace upset with some leading tech companies for so-called “dirty cloud computing?” Can you explain?    -- Jeremy Wilkins, Waco, TX

Leading tech companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are now offering unprecedented amounts of data storage and access to “apps” on huge Internet-connected servers, saving consumers and businesses the hassle of installing and running programs and storing information on their own local computers.

This emerging trend, dubbed “cloud computing,” means that these providers have had to scale up their power consumption considerably, as they are increasingly responsible for providing more and more of the computing horsepower required by the world’s two billion Internet users. No doubt, sharing such resources on centralized servers is more efficient than every individual and business running their own versions separately. In fact, the research firm Verdantix estimates that companies off-loading data and services to cloud servers could save $12 billion off their energy bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 million metric tons within the next decade. But for the greenhouse gas savings to be realized, the companies offering cloud computing services need to make the right energy choices.

Greenpeace has been tracking sustainability among tech companies for over a decade, and recently released a report, “How Green is Your Cloud?” assessing the green footprint of the move to cloud computing. According to the analysis, some of the major players (Google, Facebook and Yahoo) have gone to great lengths to ensure that significant amounts of the power they need come from clean, green sources like wind and solar. But Greenpeace chastises others (Apple, Amazon and Microsoft) for relying on so-called “dirtier” sources of power, such as coal and nuclear, to run their huge data centers.

“When people around the world share their music or photos on the cloud, they want to know that the cloud is powered by clean, safe energy,” says Gary Cook, a Senior Policy Analyst with Greenpeace. “Yet highly innovative and profitable companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are building data centers powered by coal and acting like their customers won’t know or won't care. They’re wrong! Greenpeace’s report evaluates 14 major tech firms and the electricity supply chains in use across more than 80 different data centers that power cloud-based services. Some of the largest data centers are in buildings so big they are visible from space and use as much power as 250,000 European homes. If the cloud were its own country, says Greenpeace, it would rank 5th in the world in electricity consumption.

“Companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook are beginning to lead the sector down a clean energy pathway through innovations in energy efficiency, prioritizing renewable energy access when siting their data centers, and demanding better energy options from utilities and government decision-makers,” reports Greenpeace. But unfortunately the majority of the industry is not marching in step. As such, Greenpeace is calling on all tech companies with cloud services to develop siting policies based on access to clean energy sources, invest in or directly purchase renewable energy, be transparent about their energy usage, share innovative solutions so the sector as a whole can improve, and demand that governments and utilities increase the percentage of clean, green power available on the grid.

CONTACTS: Verdantix, www.verdantix.com; Greenpeace, www.greenpeace.org.

Dear EarthTalk: What is the “Fair Trade Your Supermarket” campaign?

                     -- Brian Howley, Washington, DC

A project of the non-profit Green America, the “Fair Trade Your Supermarket” campaign aims to empower consumers to advocate for more “Fair Trade” products on store shelves at their local supermarkets. Fair trade is a system of exchange that honors producers, communities and the environment by ensuring that farmers and artisans throughout the developing world are paid fair prices for their work and have direct involvement in the marketplace. The goal of the wider Fair Trade movement, according to Green America, is to build real and lasting relationships between producers in developing countries and businesses and consumers around the world.

And that’s where your neighborhood grocer comes in. “While the Fair Trade movement is gaining steam nationwide, most of our supermarkets still carry few–if any–Fair Trade products on their shelves,” reports Green America. “Together, we can put Fair Trade products within reach for millions of Americans.

And just how does Green America expect us to do this? “First, take stock of Fair Trade products in your supermarket—look for coffee, tea, chocolate, rice, sugar, honey, wine, fresh fruit, and olive oil.” Scan the relevant aisles for third-party certifier Fair Trade USA’s distinctive black-and-white “Fair Trade Certified” label, which is only attached to imported goods where the producers receive fair prices for their products and where strict socio-economic and environmental criteria are met during production. Alternatively, look for the logos of other third-party certifiers such as “Fair for Life” or “Fair Trade Federation” on product labels if you think fair trade versions may be available in a given product line.

“Then, you can encourage the store to stock more Fair Trade products by talking to the store manager as a loyal customer,” adds Green America. They suggest using comment cards, which can be key to getting a store with no Fair Trade items to start carrying them. “Every time you go grocery shopping, drop a comment card in the box asking your manager to stock Fair Trade items.” Of course, talking to a store manager in person may be even more effective, especially if you are armed with a pile of your receipts from the store from the previous month or two to show how much spending power you alone would be able to allocate toward Fair Trade versions of the items you are buying there .

Another creative way to spread the Fair Trade gospel would be by volunteering to hand out free samples of Fair Trade products that the store already sells in order to raise awareness and build consumer demand. “Stores sell more of a product when a sampling table is set out, and if you, your friends and family are working the table, the labor is free for the store too.

But why stop with your local market? If there is a chain supermarket outlet in your area, take it to the top by writing an e-mail, letter or postcard to corporate headquarters informing them of your desire to buy Fair Trade items in all of their stores. Check out the Fair Trade Your Supermarket website (link below) for more tips on how to make your next shopping trip fairer to the planet and its people.

CONTACTS: Fair Trade Your Supermarket, www.fairtradeyoursupermarket.org; Green America, www.greenamerica.org; Fair Trade USA, www.fairtradeusa.com.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

Photo Caption Credit: International Fairtrade Certification Mark 

Fair trade is a system of exchange which ensures that farmers, artisans and other producers throughout the developing world are paid fair prices for their work and have direct involvement in the marketplace.

Photo Caption Credit: Wichary, Flickr

Greenpeace wants companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft to make smarter, cleaner energy choices now that "cloud computing" services have ratcheted up power consumption considerably.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 135 - September 9343
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