Apple continues to eliminate toxics with the iPad. But how green is the cloud?

by Mike Gaworecki

January 27, 2010

The announcement of Apple’s new iPad, made today by Apple CEO Steve Jobs at an event right here in San Francisco, included a report on the tablet device’s environmental stats: Happily, the iPad will be free of PVCs, BFRs, arsenic and mercury. It’s very exciting to see that Apple is continuing its industry-leading policy of eliminating toxic chemicals from its products, once again proving that these dangerous substances don’t belong in our electronics.

The iPad is enviro friendly, but how green is the cloud?But while Jobs also made the claim that Apple is the industry leader in mobile technologies, he didn’t mention that mobile devices are growing increasingly dependent on cloud computing power, or the fact that the energy powering the cloud can have a big impact on the green cred of mobile devices like the iPad.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, “cloud computing” refers to devices that have little or no processing power and storage of their own, but instead connect to the internet and run web-based applications and access media stored on web servers (as opposed to applications and media stored on your computer’s hard drive). Google Docs and Gmail, photos on Flickr, videos on YouTube – these are all part of “the cloud.”

While the rise of cloud computing means we get lots of cool new toys – more powerful smart phones and other high-tech gadgets like the iPad – data storage and cloud computing power are the single largest driver of new electricity demand worldwide. We launched our Cool IT Challenge precisely because tech companies have a huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions, not just in the sense that they’re responsible for emitting lots of greenhouse gases but also because they have the potential to play a big part in solutions to climate change.

You can see how all the consumer electronics stack up against each other in terms of green cred on our latest Guide to Greener Electronics.

As a leader in mobile technology, Apple now joins the ranks of big data center users like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and IBM. These companies are building data centers around the globe at alarming rates, and where they choose to build these new data centers can have a huge impact on important decisions about energy policy. For example, we’re seeing Google and Apple build data centers in places in the US where there are fights over coal power expansion, and their data centers are being used as justification by politicians and utilities to expand dirty energy power stations.

It’s great that the iPad is green. Now Apple and other players in the cloud computing sector must be aggressive advocates for renewable energy to ensure that the cloud powering their products is itself fueled by clean, green energy, not the dirty fuels of the past.

We don’t want our fancy new green iPads to be connected to a brown cloud.

Image credit: Gizmodo (via Flickr)

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