When Internet giants such as Facebook, Yahoo!, Twitter and Google leave a large carbon footprint, activist stakeholders like Greenpeace are going to notice. Greenpeace has been campaigning on increased energy efficiency in the sector and in 2011 released its report—How dirty is your data?—on the pollution cloud the IT sector was generating.
Greenpeace has “argued that IT companies, by increasing their electricity consumption while avoiding increasing demand for coal, could become a strong force in helping move countries to low-carbon economies”—a position also supported by a variety of multinationals within the ICT realm like AT&T and stakeholders such as the Carbon Disclosure Project.
Taken from “published figures for data-center power consumption and electricity utilities’ reports of their energy sources,” Greenpeace estimated that “Facebook’s reliance on coal” was at 53.2 percent use in its data centers, just below Apple’s 54.5 percent, but “higher than Google’s 34.7 percent.” Twitter’s coal reliance was at 42.5 percent, while Yahoo!’s reliance was at 18.3 percent, the report stated.
Greenpeace launched a massive campaign two year ago to “Unfriend Facebook,” garnering 700,000 supporters, “to lobby the company to change its energy policies,” especially after the social networking giant announced it would open a new data center in Oregon in February 2010. Though the facility was intended to be energy efficient, PacifiCorp was its source of power, which uses coal as its main source of energy.
In October 2011, Facebook announced that it would build a new data center in Lulea, Sweden, “using hydroelectric power for the servers and relying on the local climate to cool the data center for free.”
Facebook has also announced that it will “develop its platform to work more closely with Greenpeace to ‘promote environmental awareness and action’,” and move away from coal, powering its data centers “with clean and renewable energy.” The two organizations came together to publish a joint statement regarding the effort.
“[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 program. “As an important step, our data center siting policy now states a preference for access to clean and renewable energy.”
For the company’s existing data centers, it will “engage in a dialogue with our utility providers about increasing the supply of clean energy that power Facebook data centers,” in order to make the company less coal-reliant. Through the Open Compute Project, an organization promoting “low-cost, low-energy computing infrastructure,” Facebook, along with Greenpeace, will distribute and promote the results of its “research into energy efficiency.”
“This move sets an example for the industry to follow,” Tzeporah Berman, co-director of Greenpeace’s international climate and energy program, said. “This shift to clean, safe energy choices will help fight global warming and ensure a stronger economy and healthier communities.”
Using Facebook was “particularly effective” for Greenpeace, added Ms. Lynn. “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.”
In post on January 19, 2012, Google announced that it “has been working on a project to bring” its facilities to “higher standards for environmental management” and that its data centers had “received ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 certification.” The company claims it is “the first major Internet services company to gain external certification” for its US data centers. Google set some challenging goals for itself and followed through on meeting the key elements required to reach its goals. Some of the improvements Google has implemented are minimizing the “run time and need for maintenance” of its generators, and extending “the lifetime between oil changes” for them. In the process, the company has reduced its oil consumption by 67 percent.
Google has also implemented a system to “handle, package, ship and recycle every single battery” it uses for its servers’ power supply in each data center, ensuring “the safety of the environment” and its workers.
The company states that its decision to be more responsible when it comes to the environment and safety of its workers, it wants “to be the gold standard in environmental and workforce safety, and because we care about the communities where we live and work.”
The Google data centers that have received the dual certification are:
•The Dalles, Oregon
•Council Bluffs, Iowa
•Mayes County, Oklahoma
•Lenoir, North Carolina
•Monck’s Corner, South Carolina
•Douglas County, Georgia
Google intends to pursue certification for its European data centers as well.
As prominent companies within the sector Facebook and Google are setting powerful examples on how technology and sustainability can be paired to move the world toward a less-fossil fuel intense economy.