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Activists Use Life-Sized Amazon Echo to Protest Company’s Energy Practices in Crystal City

Crystal City commuters were greeted by a bit of an unusual sight this morning at the neighborhood’s Metro station: a human-sized Amazon Echo.

Environmental activists with the group Greenpeace USA invited people at the station to ask questions to their very own “Alexa” Thursday, and posted a variety of signs around the area proclaiming it as “National Landing,” the name chosen by local officials pitching the trifecta of Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard for the tech giant’s new headquarters.

It was all part of a demonstration designed to draw attention to Amazon’s practices for powering its data centers scattered across the Northern Virginia area.

Though much of the opposition to the company’s move to Arlington has centered on its labor standards or the incentive money flowing to the massive firm, this morning’s demonstration accused Amazon of falling short of its commitments to use renewable energy to fuel its 55 data centers scattered across the region.

“We asked Alexa if she thought Amazon would be a good neighbor to Virginians and she replied, ‘that depends how much you like breathing clean air,'” Elizabeth Jardim, a Greenpeace USA senior corporate campaigner, wrote in a statement. “Amazon’s cloud including Alexa is powered largely from Northern Virginia, where it uses 88 percent dirty energy — meaning every question to Alexa is driving carbon emissions.”

Activists invited commuters to ask questions of “Alexa” about Amazon’s energy practices, and the life-sized Echo (voiced by local improv instructor Donna Steele) was ready with plenty of snarky replies.

Amazon committed years ago to someday using 100 percent renewable energy at its data centers, run as part of its lucrative Amazon Web Services cloud computing division.

But Greenpeace is accusing the company of abandoning that effort, even as other tech companies in Virginia like Google and Microsoft make progress.

The tech giant responded to the report by saying it’s “firmly committed” to that goal, and claimed that Greenpeace is using “inaccurate data” that “overstate both AWS’s current and projected energy usage.”

The activists stand by their numbers, however, insisting that the company address the issue if it’s to be a good neighbor in Arlington.

“Before Amazon breaks ground on its HQ2 in Virginia, Jeff Bezos needs to take responsibility for Amazon’s already massive energy demand in the state and follow through on its commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy,” Jardim said.

Arlington officials have said in the past they’ve had their own conversations with Amazon executives about the best ways to ensure that the company’s new office buildings across “National Landing” are energy efficient, but those discussions won’t proceed in earnest until the county formally signs off on the incentive package designed to bring the company to Arlington.

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