Environment Forum

‘Friendly’ push for Facebook to dump coal

September 1, 2010

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, delivers a keynote address at the company's annual conference in San Francisco, California July 23, 2008. REUTERS/Kimberly White

With half a million signatures backing it up, Greenpeace fired off a letter to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg today calling for the world’s largest social network to cut ties to coal-fired power at its new data center in Oregon.

“Other cloud-based companies face similar choices and challenges as you do in building data centers, yet many are making smarter and cleaner investments,” executive director of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, writes. He points to Google and its a recent agreement to buy wind power from NextEra Energy for the next 20 years to power its data centers.

The letter adds to what’s turning into a miserable week for Zuckerberg, who is also fighting a civil lawsuit by a man who claims to own a huge chunk of the social network site and is seeking to uncover “unnecessary details” about Zuckerberg’s private life.

Greenpeace’s “Unfriend Coal” drive targeting Facebook falls under the environmental group’s larger Cool IT campaign, which aims to influence infrastructure choices behind the cloud-computing boom.

When Facebook broke ground on its center in Prineville, Oregon, last January, it blogged about energy-efficient technologies at the new facility, including cooling the air by bringing in cooler air from outside in an “airside economizer” and re-use of server heat during the colder months.

But Greenpeace says since then Facebook signed a deal to source its energy from PacificCorp, which it says uses 83 percent coal in its energy mix, the Associated Press reports.

An increase in the use of coal over the past four years was linked to a record 3 percent per year rise in global CO2 emissions,  a recent IPCC report showed.

And Greenpeace is predicting that the rise in data centers and telecommunication networks will mean an increase to 1,963 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity by 2020.

Yes it would be better for acid rain and air pollution if nobody burned coal for electricity.

But with 500 million members propping it up, should Facebook care how its users think its infrastructure should be powered? It’s a free service, after all, one that those 500 million people choose to use. Is the threat of their non-participation in FB networking enough to prompt any action?

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