Victory for Greenpeace as Facebook Un-Likes Coal

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The release last month of a joint announcement by Greenpeace and Facebook marks the end of one of the most interesting green campaigns of recent years. Greenpeace first targeted Facebook 20 months ago, after the social media giant announced a new purpose-built data center, which it turned out would depend on electricity mainly generated from coal. Facebook cited its commitment to building an energy-efficient data center, but Greenpeace argued that ignoring the prime source of energy for the site undermined other green elements of the strategy.

According to the new statement, Facebook is now committed to using renewable energy in future data centers and also offers to promote this approach to other companies:

Facebook is committed to supporting the development of clean and renewable sources of energy, and our goal is to power all of our operations with clean and renewable energy. Building on our leadership in energy efficiency (through the Open Compute Project), we are working in partnership with Greenpeace and others to create a world that is highly efficient and powered by clean and renewable energy.

A number of specific activities are also mentioned in the statement. Facebook has committed to adopting a siting policy that states a preference for access to clean and renewable energy supply, and funding research into energy efficiency that will be shared through the Open Compute Project. The company will also “Engage in a dialogue with our utility providers about increasing the supply of clean energy that power Facebook data centers.”

Greenpeace, meanwhile, will help support for the Open Compute Project, by encouraging companies to join in, use the technology, and share their own efficiency innovations, and will encourage utilities to offer ways for customers to get their utility data.

Purists may decry the lack of specific goals or actions relating to existing data centers, but the statement clearly marks an acceptance by Facebook of Greenpeace’s basic argument. The biggest irony of the campaign of course is that Greenpeace used the facilities of Facebook to campaign against Facebook. More than 700,000 people signed up to the organization’s Unfriend Coal page on Facebook (which now includes a timeline description of campaign). Now that same platform (though not necessarily that page) will be used to encourage energy efficiency and to convince other companies to adopt clean energy sources.

The Open Compute project mentioned in the statement was started by Facebook as a means of sharing its own work on energy efficiency in the data center. While the initiative sought to counter some of the flack being received from Greenpeace, it also addressed an important criticism of many of the major Internet companies with regard to their secrecy over their data center operations. The new sense of cooperation between Facebook and Greenpeace is likely to put more pressure on other Internet and cloud providers to increase their transparency in this area. The campaign demonstrates the importance and visibility that is now attached to data center facilities and the fact that citing a low power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating isn’t enough to satisfy environmental campaigners.

The power of Facebook, Twitter and other social media is now becoming evident on a daily basis. In our recent report Social Media in the Utility Industry, for example, we estimate that in 2011 more than 57 million utility customers worldwide will use some form of social media to engage with their electricity providers, and that number will grow to 624 million by the end of 2017. As Facebook found, important conversations are already going on that will impact your business, whether you’re involved or not.

Eric Woods is an analyst at Pike Research who focuses on the smart grid and green information technology.

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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