Amazon Announces Wind Deal, Still has a Long Way to Go

Today, Internet retail giant Amazon announced the first steps in moving to 100% wind power for the servers that power Amazon Web Services (AWS), its hosting subsidiary. In response to activists (including tens of thousands of Green America members) calling out the company’s failure to create sustainability goals or green their energy sources, Amazon Web Services, Inc. announced a power purchasing agreement from a wind farm in Indiana. The 150-megawatt Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) project in Benton County, Indiana has agreed to supply AWS with up to 500,000 MWh (megawatt-hours) of wind-generated electricity each year for its data centers – or enough to power 46,000 homes each year. AWS hosts all of Amazon’s online operations, as well as many popular websites including Netflix, Pinterest, and Spotify.

WindFor years, Amazon has been in the rear in the race amongst technology giants to minimize their environmental impacts, coming in well behind Google, Apple, and Facebook in terms of greening its energy usage. Nearly half of AWS’s servers are based in the Northern Virginia region. Dominion, the region’s utility, generates electricity from a mix of 37% coal, 41% nuclear, 20% natural gas, and only 2% renewables.

Greenpeace has led the efforts to push Amazon to use renewable energy for its servers by publishing several reports highlighting the company’s lack of environmental and sustainability efforts. Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner

David Pomerantz greeted today’s announcement by stating, “As it invests in renewable energy, Amazon can give its customers greater confidence in its new green ambition by publishing information about its energy footprint, as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook have done. Increased transparency will allow AWS customers to know where they and AWS stand on their journey to 100% renewable energy.”

Amazon’s announcement today is a step forward, but the company still has far to go. For one thing, it is not yet clear to what extent Amazon’s current and planned servers will be powered by wind. In the fall of 2014 Amazon Web Services committed to a billion dollar investment in a new data center somewhere in Central Ohio – in proximity to one of the largest coal-producing regions in the US, and where 70% of the electricity in the state is produced by coal. AWS has declined to comment on details of the proposed project, and while it is possible that this new data center will be powered by wind from Indiana, there has been no indication that the site to the company’s renewable energy initiatives.

Creating a greener energy footprint involves far more than simply purchasing power from one windfarm. A successful path towards greening operations includes measures to maximize energy efficiency, a strong commitment to long-term renewable energy generation, a departure from the renewable energy credits offered by utilities, increased investment in renewable technologies, and advocacy for policies that support renewables. As of now, Amazon is not disclosing any information regarding the path towards becoming a more sustainable company.

That is why Green America is continuing to push Amazon to be more transparent about a wide range of sustainability measures, including energy usage. Amazon recently hired a sustainability director and publicly committed to switching to 100% renewable energy. However, the company is still not reporting energy usage data to the Carbon Disclosure Project and has offered no view into their plan towards reduced environmental impacts. Their recently announced deal in Indiana is welcomed and recognized as a step forward, but there is still much more to be done.

Bank of America Reaches Record Settlement with Justice Department, and Taxpayers Cover the Costs

Over the past year, the Justice Department has reached multiple settlements with the country’s largest financial institutions regarding their involvement in the 2008 financial crisis. JP Morgan Chase forked over $13 billion this past November, Citigroup settled for $7 billion this July, and now Bank of America will pay a record $16.65 to the DOJ. While all of these settlements involved the sale of toxic mortgage-backed securities to unknowing investors, the recent case is different. Under the guise of providing relief to homeowners who have lost their houses, BofA will actually stick the taxpayer with a bill of up to $5.8 billion for their wrongdoings.

mortgageThe settlement, reached last Thursday, is unique in that it actually allows Bank of America to write-off most of the cost as a tax deduction. Previous settlements with similar large banks contained more restrictions on this practice, but BofA will be able to treat the payment as if it were just another operating cost, for tax purposes.

Approximately $5 billion of the grand total is considered a “civil penalty.” Typically, money paid to resolve a civil penalty cannot be written off as a business expense, but a tenth circuit court ruled earlier this month that businesses may write off penalties such as these as a “compensatory cost.” If Bank of America doesn’t try to write off these $5 billion of civil penalties, the other $11.63 billion portion of the settlement will still stick the taxpayer with a $4 billion tab. If they succeed in writing off the civil penalties, the taxpayer will be on the hook for $5.8 billion.

This latest settlement seems particularly egregious due to the facts that there were no individuals prosecuted in the case, and the assistance programs set up to pay back defrauded homeowners are extremely difficult to qualify for. Even if we look past the fact that no single company in the history of the United States has paid this much money for a single case, the underlying problem still exists. The banks were able to get away with unlawfully ripping off millions of people who didn’t know any better, and there were no real consequences. Without consequences, there is no real deterrent for behavior like this to occur again in the future.

If you’re tired of supporting these behemoth institutions that let struggling Americans foot the bill for their deceitful practices, there is still a way to receive the financial services you need. By banking with a community development financial institution you can be sure that your account supports something positive. No longer will you contribute to a banking industry that continues to get away with financial crimes.

Green America’s responsible finance programs have the resources to help you ditch your megabank and take charge of your own money. Check them out today and start putting your money where it belongs: back in your own community.

Green America Stands With the 99%

Green America posted the following statement to our Web site, in support of the Occupy Wall Street protests currently ongoing in cities nationwide:

Here at Green America, we are inspired to see people in cities and town squares from coast to coast send the message that the old, corrupt Wall Street economy is not working for people or the planet. We welcome so many new people who are waking up to the idea that they can take action to end the damage and suffering of this destructive system and help build a new, green economy that works for all.

The people raising their voice for a better way forward join a long-standing movement to change the way America does business. Since our founding, Green America has worked to stop corporate abuse and to hold irresponsible corporations accountable for their greed, for their environmental destruction, and for their exploitation of workers. We also work to grow the green economy, strengthening small, green businesses that are the engines for innovation and job creation. In the financial sector, we work to support local community development banks and credit unions that care about the communities they serve.

For too long, corporate America has externalized its costs, polluting our environment and shipping good-paying jobs overseas. For too long, Wall Street has fattened its own bottom line, exploiting the poor and the middle class, all while CEO salaries have soared, and the income gap between rich and poor has widened.  

Together, we can shift from “greed” to “green.”

Read the whole thing at greenamerica.org »

Bill Would Require Large Companies to Disclose Supply Chain Efforts

A new bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by a New York congresswoman, would require companies with more than $100 million in earnings to publicly disclose their efforts to keep child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking out of their supply chains.

 “It’s virtually impossible to get dressed, drive to work, talk on the phone, or eat a meal without touching products tainted by forced labor,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D) of Queens, when she introduced the bill.

According to the Christian Science Monitor:

The bill would require any company earning more than $100 million worldwide to document its efforts in two places: its annual Securities and Exchange Commissions (SEC) filing, and the company’s website. These disclosures would detail the companies’ policies to prevent illegal labor and their methods for certifying that suppliers abide by them. …

“The Congresswoman was very intelligent about the way she’s put this together,” says E. Benjamin Skinner [author of the book, “A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery]. “[The disclosure] has to be in an SEC filing. If you lie as a CEO in an SEC filing, you go to jail.”