The skies over the glass cube that serves as the entrance to the Apple store on Fifth Avenue turned a bit dark on Tuesday afternoon, at least for some shoppers inside. And a passing storm had nothing to do with it.
The sudden shadows were caused by bunches of balloons released by Greenpeace, the environmental advocacy group, in order to call attention to Apple’s use of coal power at its facilities.
Around 2:30 p.m., as if delivering birthday greetings, several Greenpeace demonstrators entered the cube clutching helium-filled balloons, which were the shape and color of charcoal briquettes.
As they neared the bottom of the cube’s stairs, they released the balloons, which lasted until they hit the ceiling of the cube and lodged themselves in place. Other demonstrators came later with paper shopping bags filled with balloons, which they let trickle out as they entered the store, before being escorted out.
The stunt, which did not lead to any arrests, according to Greenpeace, was timed to coincide with last week’s release of a report that ranked the eco-friendliness of top technology companies. Apple’s “clean energy index” of 15 percent was below that of Google, with 39 percent, and Dell, with 56 percent.
That relatively low score, according to Greenpeace, is partly because much of the electricity Apple uses at a new data center in Maiden, N.C., where the company’s iCloud storage is powered, comes from burning coal, a pollutant.
But whether Tuesday’s stunt will compel Apple to use more renewable energy is unclear. The company said that it was already working to make the North Carolina facility greener and that Greenpeace’s estimates for how much energy it used there were too high anyway.
But for its part, Greenpeace is calling the event, which was replicated at Apple stores in Toronto and San Francisco, a success.
“The customers were really buzzing, the employees were buzzing,” said Gabe Wisniewski, Greenpeace’s coal campaign director. “We want Apple to build a cleaner cloud, and we sent the message to the company.”
Not every Apple worker seemed to get it, though. One had to ask a reporter what the event meant, and some passers-by didn’t even notice the balloons on the ceiling. This may be because there were only about 50 of them. Some activists got stuck in traffic, one said, and by the time they arrived, they were barred from the store by police officers and forced to pace up and down the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue with the other balloons in their hands.
Alejandro Chavez, 49, from Boston, who was visiting New York with his son Alejandro, 19, thought the balloons were part of an Apple campaign to promote its iCloud feature. That confusion was sown in part because the cloud logo for iCloud appeared on many of the balloons. “I guess this will get the conversation started, though,” Mr. Chavez said.
Others felt sympathy for Apple, which has seemed to endure a lot of negative press recently, including The New York Times’s coverage of workplace standards in Chinese factories where iPhones are made.
“I don’t think that Apple is a malicious company,” said Bruce Aronson, 62, of Manhattan, who was at the store to shop. “In the end, they are just a victim of being No. 1.”
The most excited observer seemed to be Russell Lum, an Occupy Wall Street participant.
“I’m a fellow activist, and I understand tactics, so I know what this is all about,” Mr. Lum, 22, said. “This is what’s up, man!”