The edgy ecophiles at Greenpeace have placed Facebook in their crosshairs, bashing Mark Zuckerberg over what they allege is a reliance on coal to fuel his (substantial) data centers. A new video slams Zuck, and asks for a renewable alternative.
The video, plucking emphatically at your heartstrings with the narration of what sounds like a cutesy British toddler, tells a children's book version of the Facebook story, of a sad nerd who founded a mega-successful company so he could be popular (Aaron Sorkin, whatup!) Now his social network behemoth companion lives in "a big box full of computers" in Oregon—and this box needs a lot of electricity. A lot of electricity. Like $1 million a month in electricity, and that was a year ago, before the 'Book smashed the half a billion friends mark.
So, Greenpeace says, this box is being fueled by coal. And coal is rotten for the environment. Their suggestion? Unfriend coal, and power Facebook's data centers with a renewable source instead.
But is it so simple? TechCrunch points out that Facebook's director of policy communications was quick to save face, claiming:
It's true that the local utility for the region we chose, Pacific Power, has an energy mix that is weighted slightly more toward coal than the national average (58% vs. about 50%). However, the efficiency we are able to achieve because of the climate of the region minimizes our overall carbon footprint. Said differently, if we located the data center most other places, we would need mechanical chillers, use more energy, and be responsible for an overall larger environmental impact-even if that location was fueled by more renewable energy.
So depicting Facebook's data centers are some sort of 19th century, soot-belching smokestack tower might not be accurate. But then Greenpeace returns fire!
We appreciate your recognition that Facebook has a coal problem with its Oregon datacenter. However, where we disagree is your claim to be powerless to do anything about it as, like Greenpeace and others, Facebook simply have to buy whatever electricity is available. This is not the case for Greenpeace, and is certainly not the case for Facebook, who is an industrial scale consumer of electricity. Facebook is buying electricity in bulk to meet the needs of 500 million+ users, and is becoming a very influential company both inside and outside the IT sector. The expected power consumption of the Oregon data center alone gives Facebook the purchasing power of 30,000-40,000 homes, which gives you the ability and standing to shape how power is generated in Oregon and far beyond.
So what we have here is Facebook, on the one hand, saying coal is a reality they can't avoid, and Greenpeace retorting they've got the clout (and cash) to go totally green. Coal is certainly less expensive than, say, wind or solar, so the business interest Facebook has in powering its servers on the cheap is clear. Then again, Greenpeace points out the efforts IT giants like Google and Yahoo are putting forth to increase their juice efficiency—which is certainly something we'd like to see from Facebook too. Ogling photos of girls I went to middle school with is guilt-spurring enough—the last thing I need on my conscience is a heavier carbon footprint. [Greenpeace via TechCrunch]