Facebook Steps Up Its Green Game

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Embracing “the power of openness,” Facebook published their 2011 energy and carbon footprint data this past Wednesday, along with a bold announcement of the company’s plans to generate a quarter of its electricity use from renewable sources by 2015.

“We’ve set a company goal to derive at least 25 percent of our energy mix from clean and renewable sources by 2015,” the company stated on its website. “We know this is going to be a stretch for us, and we’re still figuring out exactly what it will take to get there.”

By 2014, Facebook will have a data center located near the Arctic Circle in Northern Sweden that will utilize hydropower and cold air funnelled from outside to cool down servers. The Internet giant also announced their intentions to place future data center locations in regions with access to clean and renewable energy sources; however, until then, the company admitted that their “carbon footprint and energy mix may get worse before they get better.” Facebook’s demand for coal-powered electricity is projected to increase over the next two years at its two current data centers in Prineville, Oregon, and Forest City, North Carolina.

“In the short term, reducing our impact and significantly altering our energy mix will be challenging,” the company added. “When we bring our Lulea, Sweden, data center online in 2014, we expect to see a steady increase in the clean and renewable sources powering our data center operations.”

Facebook’s breakdown of their 2011 energy sources revealed their total energy use from office space, data centers and other facilities was approximately 532 million kWh–equivalent to a 60 Watt light bulb kept lit for just over one million years. Greenhouse gas emissions from data centres, office space, employee commuting, employee air travel, data center construction and server transportation totalled approximately 285,000 metric tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent, which includes greenhouse gases CO2, CH4, N2O, and HFCs). While 27% of the site’s energy use was powered by coal electricity, 23% was powered with renewable energy, thanks in part to pressure by Greenpeace’s “Unfriend Coal” campaign. The Unfriend Coal campaign was a hit on Facebook, even setting a Guinness World Record for the amount of support it received via Facebook user comments in one day.

“Today’s detailed disclosure and announcement of a clean energy target shows that the company means business and wants the world to follow its progress,” said Greenpeace International Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook.

Additionally computed in Facebook’s release was each individual user’s carbon footprint from logging on for one year. According to their data, each of the 950 million Facebook users worldwide who regularly logged in during 2011 created approximately 269 grams of carbon emissions, or the equivalent carbon footprint of a medium latte or a couple of glasses of wine.