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Is Greenpeace right about Facebook’s coal habit?

Published on Computerworld Blogs (
Is Greenpeace right about Facebook’s coal habit?
By Preston Gralla
Created Mar 30 2010 – 10:56am

Greenpeace has charged that Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google and others are contributing to global warming by using coal to power data centers for their cloud-based services. The charges are dramatic — but are they on target?

A new Greenpeace report, titled “Make IT Green: Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change,” warns that the data centers of cloud computing giants including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others are in large part powered by coal, which contributes to global warming. Greenpeace charges that the computing giants aren’t doing enough to place data centers where they can use alternative sources of energy, or to push for policy changes. You can download the report here [1].

Previous to the release of the report, Greenpeace criticized Facebook for purchasing electricity for its first custom-built data center from a utility that uses more coal [2] on average than the rest of the U.S. The center, in Prineville, Oregon, will buy power from Pacific Power. Greenpeace set up a Facebook group [3] asking that Facebook stop using coal power.

The BBC says that Facebook admits that Pacific Power uses more coal on average than other places in the U.S [4]. The BBC also reports that Facebook’s servers will use an air-cooling, rather than air conditioning, which will cut electric use.

The Greenpeace report charges that Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google already have data centers that rely on coal, and that they are building new data centers that will also rely on coal. The group says that companies should instead build data centers in areas where they can get electricity from renewable resources. It singled out Apple for building a data center in North Carolina, where coal supplies about 60% of the state’s electricity.

“The last thing we need is for more cloud infrastructure to be built in places where it increases demand for dirty coal-fired power,” the report concludes.

The report praised Yahoo for building a data center near Buffalo, New York, where it will be able to get hydroelectric power.

What’s the truth about the charges against Facebook and others? The heart of Greenpeace’s charges are that the companies data centers should be built near sources of renewable energy, and that the companies should push for policy changes that would ensure greener production of electricity. Greenpeace also charges that although the companies use electricity-cutting techniques in their data centers, they do that only to save money, and don’t take more drastic action that would reduce the use of coal power.

Greenpeace has it partially right. As a whole, the technology industry has not done nearly enough to push for reforms that would push for the use of renewable energy and reduce the use of coal. And the industry also isn’t doing enough to locate data centers near sources of renewable energy.

But the companies are also doing good as well. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have located data centers near large sources of renewable energy, for example. Google purchases carbon offsets to make up for coal use. And all companies are doing an increasingly good job of making sure their data centers are very energy-efficient. The fact that they’re doing it to help their bottom line doesn’t matter — it does help reduce global warming.

Still, Greenpeace is right that the industry needs to locate data centers near sources of renewable power whenever possible, and that it should push for changes to cut our reliance on coal.


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The Best Luxury Eco-Hotels on the Planet by Jill Starley-Grainger

The Best Luxury Eco-Hotels on the Planet
by Jill Starley-Grainger

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Coca-Cola Goes Completely Green at Olympics

Coca-Cola Goes Completely Green at Olympics
In Ambitious Eco-Friendly Push, Sponsor Big Red Vows to Produce Zero Waste During the Vancouver Games
By Natalie Zmuda
Published: February 01, 2010
Advertising Age

NEW YORK ( — When the Vancouver Olympic Games kick off on Feb. 12, visitors will find café furniture made from pine-beetle-salvaged wood, drink out of bottles made from 30% plant-based materials, and their beverages will be delivered via hybrid vehicles and electric cart. All are elements of Coca-Cola’s first zero-waste, carbon-neutral sponsorship.

GREEN SCENE: At the Olympics, Coke’s cafe furniture is made from pine-beetle-salvaged wood, and beverages will be delivered via hybrid vehicles and electric cart.

The effort has been years in the making, beginning with a relatively simple recycling effort for the Athens Olympic Games in 2000. Since then the company has layered in additional elements, like environmentally friendly coolers and shirts made out of plastic bottles.
“The world is evolving. The focus of the consumer is also changing,” said Thierry Borra, Coca-Cola’s director-Olympic Games management. “One thing that we know from the research is that sustainability is important to all of our customers and consumers. It has an impact on how consumers are perceiving our brand.”
While corporate sponsors and event producers have been incorporating more eco-friendly elements in the last couple of years, Coca-Cola is one of the first major marketers to embark on a zero-waste, carbon-neutral sponsorship of an event as complex as the Olympic Games. “It’s aggressive for them to do it today and not set it as some future mission,” said Andrew Winston, a sustainability consultant working on the U.S. bid for the World Cup and author of two books on green business. “The standard for what is expected of a sponsor or partner at a big event is rising pretty fast. This will definitely raise the bar.”

Other corporate sponsors should take note. Mr. Winston believes it won’t be long before conversations between events or organizations and sponsors evolve to include sustainability. “It won’t purely be about who’s going to pay the millions for [the sponsorship], but what is the sustainability package that they bring to the table,” he said.
William Chipps, senior editor of the IEG Sponsorship Report, said that the trend toward more-sustainable sponsorships has been gaining momentum in the last couple of years, though much of that has been “low-hanging fruit,” including recycling and waste-management efforts. “Consumers are looking for these types of programs,” he said. “It’s getting to the point where they’re expecting them.”

It’s not always easy to meet consumer expectations, however. Coca-Cola dreamed big when it began planning its Vancouver sponsorship in 2006, Mr. Borra said, but some of the things that sounded good in theory proved difficult to execute. For example, all of the uniforms worn by Coca-Cola’s Olympic Torch Relay staff and Olympic Games staff are made completely of recycled bottles. But, in Vancouver, average low temperatures in January and February hover at around 32 degrees, with anywhere from 5 to 6 inches of precipitation. Mr. Borra said it was challenging to find a supplier that had the technology to produce a jacket that could stand up to a Vancouver winter.

Similarly, the team made plans to deliver all beverages to the Olympic Games sites in hybrid heavy-duty vehicles. Those turned out to be hard to come by and had to be brought in specifically for the games. Coca-Cola also had to work with Vancouver city officials to develop a new waste stream for its compostable coffee cups and lids. “Some of it seemed easy on paper,” Mr. Borra said. “But we have to work with suppliers to make sure there is the technology.”

For its part, Mr. Borra said Coca-Cola has been sharing its plans with other top Olympic partners. He is also scheduled to speak at an upcoming SportAccord conference about Coca-Cola’s sustainable sponsorship efforts.

In general, the Olympics have been at the forefront of the environmental movement, said Benjamin Seeley, head of marketing communications for the International Olympic Committee. The Vancouver Organizing Committee was the first to incorporate sustainability into its mission statement and fully embed sustainability into its operations, he added. VANOC also created an award, the “Sustainability Star” to recognize partners for their efforts. Coca-Cola was one of the first corporate sponsors to receive the award.

Of course, its program isn’t without risk. Taking such a major step could open Coca-Cola up to increased scrutiny and criticism if it doesn’t reach its goals and, like any company that greenwashes, Coca-Cola could be skewered if it doesn’t deliver. But that seems unlikely, according to Ryan Schuchard, manager-research and innovation at Business for Social Responsibility, a global business network and consultancy focused on sustainability. He said sustainability is an area where Coca-Cola has the chops, both with its messaging and public policy positions.

“Coca-Cola has definitely said some of the most progressive things about policy, and they’ve been creative with messaging,” he said. “Global companies, on sustainability issues, are going to attract a lot of interest and criticism. There’s a small risk but a bigger opportunity comes with that. And Coke does have some credibility on these issues.”

Coke’s Mr. Borra said the company is confident it can reach its goals, but if it doesn’t, it will try to understand why and improve. Hence the outside auditor to monitor its efforts in Vancouver: “We believe that all of our stakeholders, including consumers and NGO partners, will understand that progress on this front will not always be a straight-line improvement, especially given that often we are pioneering new process or technologies,” he said.

Coca-Cola started laying out its plans for the sponsorship in October 2006. The final plan was created in consultation with the World Wildlife Fund-Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental organization. An outside agency was also brought in to determine the company’s carbon footprint, so that carbon offsets could be purchased. And an outside auditor will evaluate the sponsorship following the games.
A lot adds up to zero

How Coke is being sustainable at the Olympics
• All coolers, approximately 1,500 of them, will use eKOfresh technology, nearly eliminating direct greenhouse gas emissions and reducing indirect emissions.
• A fleet of diesel-electric hybrid heavy-duty vehicles will deliver beverages from bottling facilities to the venues. Within the venues, electric carts will be used to deliver beverages.

• The tables and displays at the “Far Coast” café in the athlete’s village are made of wood salvaged from the pine-beetle epidemic in British Columbia.
• Menu boards will be made of recycled materials.
• All staff uniforms — everything but underwear and shoes — will be made of recycled bottles; in their welcome bags, athletes will receive T-shirts made of recycled bottles.
• Recycling bins will be scattered throughout the venues in an effort to divert 100% of recyclable waste from landfills.
• Coke’s PlantBottle will be used for all sparkling beverages and water. Compostable cups and lids will be used for coffee.
• Purchase of carbon offsets for air travel, as well as on-site transportation.
• Within the Olympic Village, athletes will be encouraged to make a pledge to help the environment.
• “Green Teams” have canvassed the Olympic Torch Relay route to clean up and recycle waste. All handouts have been recyclable, including aluminum bottles for sampling.
• Torchbearers were selected based on essays with an environmental theme.

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What Needs to Change

The prospects are gloomy, but they can be made brighter.

THOSE who have had the misfortune to be closely involved in climate-change negotiations are not short of ideas on how the process might be made more productive. One improvement would be to stop trying to deal with so many gases at once (see article). Another would be to stop trying to deal with so many countries.

With 192 participants, the annual UNFCCC conferences are too big to do anything very useful. But most greenhouse-gas emissions are produced by the 17 countries that meet in the Major Economies Forum, a group put together by George Bush in what was widely regarded as an attempt to sabotage the UNFCCC. The MEF has, ironically, turned out to be a good forum for tackling difficult questions. The UNFCCC should therefore stick to big statements of principle and leave the details to the MEF or other small groups.

The negotiations also divide the world into two halves. The idea of “common but differentiated responsibilities” on which the UNFCCC is based—that everybody is in it together but some countries are more responsible than others—is reasonable. But the way it is being applied means that the developed (“Annex 1”) countries bear all the burden of mitigation whereas developing (“non-Annex 1”) countries benefit from the CDM and are not required to limit their emissions at all.

This binary division has fostered an us-and-them attitude that gets in the way of agreement and forces together countries that have little in common. The world economy has changed a lot in 17 years. For example, Mexico and South Korea are non-Annex 1 countries, but also members of the OECD, the club of rich countries. The non-Annex 1 countries now have widely differing concerns. China wants money for cutting industrial emissions. Africa wants generous provisions for forestry. Brazil has hydro power and biofuels, so it wants a regime that favours those. South Africa’s economy is based on coal, so it wants investment in carbon capture and storage.

Most developing countries cling to this division because they have done well out of it, but some middle-income countries are trying to get rid of it. “Mexico’s main goal”, says Mario Molina, a Nobel prize-winning chemist and a key figure in the successful campaign to cut ozone-depleting gases, “is to make a difference in the impasse between developed and developing countries.” Mexico has made a commitment along developed-country lines to halve emissions by 2050, and proposes that prosperous heavy-emitting developing countries—including Mexico—be net contributors to its “Green Fund”. China dislikes the idea, but it is gaining traction.

A further problem with the framework created at Kyoto is that it ignored some crucial sources of emissions—chief among them deforestation, the source of around 12% of man-made greenhouse-gas emissions, more than the EU contributes in total. Dealing with it is also one of the cheapest ways of cutting emissions. But working out how to do that is difficult, which is why deforestation got left out of Kyoto.

Cutting emissions from factories means paying people to do things differently. Stopping deforestation, by contrast, means paying people for not doing something they might otherwise have done. This is tricky. Should people be paid for each year in which they have refrained from cutting down trees? If so, how much? And who, exactly, should be paid? The owners or occupants of forests that are being cut down? Or the owners or occupants of all the forests in the world? That would either be prohibitively expensive, since forests cover 30% of the Earth’s landmass, or the payments would not be high enough to protect the most endangered areas of forest.

The UN programme for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD), the main model under discussion at Copenhagen, favours the more limited approach. But that, its opponents argue, would create a perverse incentive. As Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana’s president, says, “You can’t have a sustainable strategy that focuses only on those places that have high rates of deforestation, otherwise you’ll get leakage. The logging companies will have an incentive to move to countries that have conserved their forests,” as Guyana has. Creating a sensible mechanism to deal with deforestation is going to require different levels of payment—higher ones for areas vulnerable to being cut down for farming and lower ones for the rest.

Despite the difficulties, avoiding deforestation is regarded as a crucial tool for cutting emissions. Indonesia, for instance, has said that with REDD in place, it could cut its emissions in two decades by 40% from 2005 levels. A deal on deforestation therefore looks likely—if not at Copenhagen, then in the near future.

Hold the champagne
That the world is gathering in Copenhagen next week to try to decarbonise the global economy is a good thing in itself, and a consequence of other reasons for optimism. It is now widely accepted that averting serious climate change is technically feasible and economically affordable. Everybody has a good idea of what is needed, in terms of money and emissions cuts, to get a deal. Most big emitters have either started on, or promised, serious reduction programmes, and all of those countries’ leaders have invested a lot of political capital in being seen to make a success of averting serious climate change.

Copenhagen will not produce a detailed, comprehensive, legally binding agreement. But with good luck and good will, something positive may come out of it: a political agreement, which would be turned into a legally binding agreement when the fate of America’s climate-change legislation has been decided, and a deal on some specifics, such as forestry.

But even if Copenhagen’s participants end up toasting their efforts over the head of the little mermaid, what really matters is how any international agreement is implemented at a national level. And there, although progress has been made, some things are also going awry. Too little effort is going into carbon pricing and too much money into subsidies. The system is getting fat with pork; and the more pork there is, the smaller the chance that the world can cut its emissions without causing serious damage to its economy.

And yet it can be done. Most of the necessary technologies are available. The economics can be made to work. Everything depends, in the end, on the voters and their political leaders. Willing voters and braver politicians will mean better policies. And better policies will enable mankind to make a big difference to the planet’s future at a surprisingly small cost.

Dec 3rd 2009
From The Economist print edition

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Toward Home-Brewed Electricity With ‘Personalized Solar Energy’

ScienceDaily (Nov. 22, 2009) — New scientific discoveries are moving society toward the era of “personalized solar energy,” in which the focus of electricity production shifts from huge central generating stations to individuals in their own homes and communities.

That’s the topic of a report by an international expert on solar energy scheduled for the November 2 issue of ACS’ Inorganic Chemistry, a bi-weekly journal. It describes a long-awaited, inexpensive method for solar energy storage that could help power homes and plug-in cars in the future while helping keep the environment clean.

Daniel Nocera explains that the global energy need will double by mid-century and triple by 2100 due to rising standards of living world population growth. Personalized solar energy — the capture and storage of solar energy at the individual or home level — could meet that demand in a sustainable way, especially in poorer areas of the world.

The report describes development of a practical, inexpensive storage system for achieving personalized solar energy. At its heart is an innovative catalyst that splits water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen that become fuel for producing electricity in a fuel cell. The new oxygen-evolving catalyst works like photosynthesis, the method plants use to make energy, producing clean energy from sunlight and water.

“Because energy use scales with wealth, point-of-use solar energy will put individuals, in the smallest village in the nonlegacy world and in the largest city of the legacy world, on a more level playing field,” the report states.

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The Meier Residence – Boulder, CO

This timber frame alpine house built in Boulder, Colorado takes advantage of striking mountain views by utilizing high efficiency European windows and sliding doors. With an in-wall radiant heating system and passive solar, the house stays warm on the coldest days in winter while using a minimal amount of energy.

German precision-engineered homes break the mold by combining efficiency with high performance and exceptional elegance.

A home should be unique, accommodate your lifestyle, and make you feel good. It’s important that for such a large investment you get the house that you want. Intelligent design enables people to live in luxury as they define it, in a house they love, while still remaining true to their values. The Meier residence proves that homes can be beautiful, functional and efficient, but also in harmony with nature. Through their revolutionary approach to home building, Vireo is constructing houses that have a minimal impact upon the earth and are a delight to live in.

The technology used to construct the Meier’s gorgeous, livable and efficient home is similar to Vireo’s approach to 2002 Alpine – the company’s ground-breaking ecoluxury home being built now.











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World’s First Solar-Powered Boat Crosses Transatlantic

With the oil age slowly coming to an end, the key defining moment of the the 21st Century will likely be the human race’s transition to renewable energy. And while we’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming from our dependance on fossil fuels, small groups of innovators are already paving the way toward the next step. In a giant leap towards unfuelled travel, a full-sized motorised catamaran, the “sun21,” has just completed a leisurely crossing of the Atlantic ocean without consuming a drop of fuel. Stored solar energy powered the 5-man crew from Spain to the USA at a constant rate of 5-6 knots around the clock via electric engines. This is a major achievement – a reliable, long-distance, powered vehicle with zero fuel costs – and its successful journey hints at a cleaner, greener, cheaper future of transport.

“I spend many weeks each year on my yacht in the Caribbean hoping for good winds,” said sun21 skipper Michael Thonney before the journey, “But on sun21 I’ll be wanting lulls and plenty of sun.” Commenced in 2004 and setting sail on December 3rd, 2006, the sun21 project silently motored into New York City at 3pm on May 8th, completing a 7,000 mile journey which included a non-stop 3,500 nautical mile Atlantic crossing in 52 days. It’s the first time in history that a solar-powered vehicle has made the transatlantic crossing.

An equivalent journey undertaken on a diesel yacht would consume 3,744 litres of diesel – if there was some way to carry such a large amount of fuel. The sun21, by comparison, consumed nothing in its trip, instead harvesting around 2,000 kWh of emission-free solar energy. Half the solar power generated during the day was stored so the yacht could be continuously powered through the night, and the boat only dropped speed when the sky was overcast for extended periods of time.

The journey was conceived by Swiss shipbuilder Marc Wüst, manager of MW-Line. The building of the sun21 and trip expenses were funded by a group of idealistic individuals calling themselves the transatlantic21 Association.

The 12 tonne, 14 metre catamaran is based on the MW-LINE Aquabus C60, which is successfully being used as a tourist cruise boat in Europe. Twin electric motors produce 8kW each to push the boat to a maximum speed of 7 knots, or 5 knots on energy-conserving long-range night and day cruising – roughly equivalent to the speed of sailing yachts. Costing about US$575,000 to buy and prepare for the trip, the sun21 is now up for auction.

The sun21’s successful arrival in New York coincided with the launch of the World Clean Energy Awards – an international platform created by the transatlantic21 Association to recognise the mainstreaming of clean energy in practice, as opposed to theoretical or drawing-board solutions.

“The transatlantic21 Association set out to showcase the power of clean energy,” said skipper Michael Thonney, “It has been my distinct pleasure to be a part of the crew of sun21 and to prove we don’t need oil to cross oceans. In modern society, we can travel the world in a way that is both efficient and respectful to our environment and our resources. This has been a liberating journey and one which I believe will transform the way we approach travel on our oceans, seas and waterways.”

Having successfuly achieved this historic milestone, project initiator Marc Wüst is already planning a circunavigation of the globe in a similar boat. Congratulations to the transatlantic21 team on an inspirational journey and for proving that zero-emissions, unfuelled travel is a real possibility.

By Loz Blain, gizmag, April 14, 2007.

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