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Can Big Tech Go Green? How Facebook, Apple and Google Stack Up

Most are aware of Facebook's privacy assaults, but few know of the company's reluctance to embrace green energy, a challenge Apple has readily accepted.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Frank Gaertner/ Shutterstock.com

 
 
 
 

As Facebook's first public offering on May 18 failed to meet expectations, causing a number of stock market analysts to predict the social network's ultimate demise, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was no doubt giggling in greed-filled joy. He even topped off his celebratory weekend by tying the knot with his longtime sweetheart.

Facebook's public sale was more a whimper than a bang, despite being the largest of its kind ever. Coincidentally, the buildup to this history-making event would have been an opportune time to wage a public campaign against the company's suspect practices. While most are aware of Facebook's privacy assaults, less scrutinized is the company's reluctance to embrace green energy, a challenge Apple has readily accepted for its data storage centers.

In January 2010 Facebook announced it was going to build a 147,000-square-foot data center in the town of Prineville, Oregon for a whooping $200 million. It is the first Facebook-owned data facility, and houses Facebook's servers. The majority of the power for the center was set up to be purchased from PacifiCorp, which draws the lion's share of its energy from the burning of coal. The entire campus will eventually consume about 78 megawatts of electricity to support its operations.

Greenpeace, known for its feisty environmental campaigns, was the first to heave criticism on Facebook for failing to go green. "Facebook, by opening this center, is sending a signal: We're not quite done with coal yet," said Daniel Kessler of Greenpeace. "We understand that the data center is being built. They already have a power service agreement. This is really about where Facebook and the industry are going."

In September 2010 Greenpeace released a humorous cartoon video targeteing Zuckerberg and company, laying into Facebook's choice of power for its Oregon data center. The video claimed Facebook had the option to choose wind power, but "silly Mark Zuckerberg chose dirty old coal" instead. Wind power in eastern Oregon is plentiful and Greenpeace believed it was entirely possible for Facebook to tap into this renewable resource -- or set up a wind farm of its own nearby.

Simultaneously Greenpeace launched a successful "Unfriend Coal" campaign against Facebook, asking the social network giant to use 100-percent renewable energy.

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No doubt Facebook was feeling the heat. The Greenpeace video lambasting Zuckerberg received a half a million views and tens of thousands of users joined the group's Unfriend Coal campaign. In April 2011 Facebook said the company would install a solar array at its Oregon facility, which would make the data center one of only a few in the world to receive any power from solar energy. Nonetheless, Facebook's solar panels are only set to generate a meager 100 kilowatts of energy, a small fraction of the center's 78-megawatt consumption.

Greenpeace called Facebook's solar move "encouraging," but still not enough. Yet, in December of last year Greenpeace announced it was dropping the campaign, saying Zuckerberg's company and the enviro group would work together to encourage the use of renewables over coal.

It was an odd announcement to say the least. Greenpeace claimed victory, but for what exactly wasn't clear. Facebook was still going to use coal for its data center and in Greenpeace's public agreement with Facebook, there were no timetables given and no goals listed for how or when it would reduce the amount of dirty energy it used. The only thing Facebook said was it will have a "preference for access to clean and renewable energy supply."

A preference is not a commitment.

Greenpeace, however, said it also hatched a private agreement with Facebook as well -- one its members were not allowed to see.

 
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