Free cupcakes for Pinterest employees, courtesy of Greenpeace.
In what must count as one of the strangest protests ever seen on the streets of San Francisco's startup-filled SOMA district, Greenpeace activists surrounded Pinterest HQ Tuesday morning and ... gave employees free Blue Bottle coffee and cupcakes with the Pinterest logo on them.
The cupcake offensive was part of a wider protest that encompassed dozens of the most widely-pinned artists on the popular social media service, all of whom simultaneously posted pictures asking Pinterest to "make our pins green."
The problem, as Greenpeace sees it, is that Pinterest hosts its pins on Amazon Web Services — which was called out last month in Greenpeace's report on cloud computing, "Clicking Clean." Apple, Google and Facebook have made tremendous strides towards powering their server farms with as much renewable energy as possible; they have both constructed their own solar and wind farms and forced utility companies to provide renewable power options.
Amazon has made no such commitment, and isn't transparent about where its energy comes from. So Greenpeace has stated its intent to go after the largest customers of Amazon Web Services — companies such as Netflix, Yelp, Airbnb, Spotify, Reddit, Vine and Pinterest.
But if Tuesday's protest is anything to go by, employees at those companies should be less concerned about picket lines than expanding waistlines.
In addition to cupcakes and coffee, which came from a makeshift Pinterest-branded airstream trailer powered by solar panels — of course — Greenpeace set up a sidewalk cafe, with real turf and 13-ft tall "pinboards" containing Pinterest protest artwork.
"Right now," said Greenpeace Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook, author of the Clicking Clean report, "we're using the carrot rather than the stick."
Some of Pinterest's 300 employees kept their heads down and walked past the protest. Others gladly grabbed cupcakes. Despite nervous-looking security guards at the entrance, word came from inside that plenty of staffers were sympathetic to Greenpeace's concerns.
"I wish we could just push a button and have us be powered by clean energy," said Pinterest Head of Communications Barry Schnitt, who came out and chatted amiably with the protestors.
It isn't quite that simple at the moment. For a company like Pinterest, which is growing exponentially, Amazon Web Services remains one of the most stable and scalable options around. It won't always be that way, however. Competitors such as Rackspace are growing fast, and Google has declared its intent to muscle in on Amazon's turf.
And Pinterest will be changing its ways sooner rather than later, if some of its power users have anything to do with it. "It would great to be part of helping Pinterest’s platform go green," says Paula Coop McCrory, a Toronto-based visual artist with over 4 million followers on Pinterest who took part in the protest. "Being environmentally friendly is important to me and my family."