Facebook on a clean energy mission with Greenpeace

15 Dec 2011

Data centres in the US use up to 2pc of energy demand in the US. This percentage is projected to grow 12pc or more per year

Greenpeace has today ended its Unfriend Coal attack on Facebook. Instead, the duo are now teaming up to launch an ambitious clean-energy drive, which will involve encouraging other IT giants to embrace clean energy. Facebook users will also be urged to save energy via the social media platform itself.

It would appear to be a fairly ambitious mission from Facebook’s perspective, which had come under fire from Greenpeace for its use of coal to power up its data centres.

Just two years ago, Greenpeace hit out at Facebook for its use of coal and launched its global Unfriend Coal Campaign.

At the time, Greenpeace enlisted 700,000 online activists to call on Facebook to power its data centres with clean energy instead of coal. More than 700,000 Facebook users in 14 countries supported the Unfriend Coal Campaign, and set the Guinness World Record for most Facebook comments in one day.

As a result of its online debacle over coal usage at Facebook data centres, Greenpeace has today called a truce on its campaign.

And the result?

“Greenpeace and Facebook will now work together to encourage major energy producers to move away from coal and instead invest in renewable energy. This move sets an example for the industry to follow,” said Tzeporah Berman, co-director of Greenpeace’s International Climate and Energy programme today. “This shift to clean, safe energy choices will help fight global warming and ensure a stronger economy and healthier communities.”

The energy used to power data centres, such as those operated by Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, IBM and other major IT companies that deliver online services is significant, totalling more than 2pc of US electricity demand, and is projected to grow 12pc or more per year.  

So what is Facebook aiming for here exactly?

Facebook said today its goal is to power its operations, including its data centres, using clean and renewable energy.

The company said it would build on its leadership in energy efficiency through the Open Compute Project – an industry-wide group that works to design and enable the delivery of the most efficient server, storage and data centre hardware designs for scalable computing.

“Facebook looks forward to a day when our primary energy sources are clean and renewable, and we are working with Greenpeace and others to help bring that day closer,” said Marcy Scott Lynn of Facebook’s sustainability programme.

“As an important step, our data centre siting policy now states a preference for access to clean and renewable energy. Another important step will be to work with Greenpeace to put the power of our platform to use for the environment,” said Lynn.

She pointed out how Greenpeace has been particularly effective using Facebook to spark environmental awareness and action.

“We are excited to work with them to explore new ways in which people can use Facebook to engage and connect on the range of energy issues that matter most to them – from their own energy efficiency to access to cleaner sources of energy.”

Getting other IT companies in on the clean act

Facebook is also vying to engage with utility providers about the sources of energy that power their data centres.

“Facebook’s commitment to renewable energy raises the bar for other IT and cloud computing companies, such as Apple, IBM, Microsoft and Twitter,” said Casey Harrell, senior IT analyst for Greenpeace International.

“The Facebook campaign proved that people all over the world want their social networks powered by renewable energy, and not by coal. Greenpeace will continue to measure, report and campaign on the sector’s progress to green the cloud,” added Harrell.

Facebook users

Greenpeace and Facebook have also agreed to develop and promote “experiences” on Facebook that help people and organisations connect with ways to save energy and engage their communities in clean-energy issues.   

Greenpeace said today it makes extensive use of Facebook to engage its supporters in campaigns, and is the most ‘liked’ environmental non-profit organisation on Facebook. Right now, more than 3.8m users like Greenpeace’s Facebook pages, including almost 1m people who like the Greenpeace International page.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic