Facebook tells Greenpeace: 'We're just as green as you'

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Facebook has told Greenpeace to get its own house in order, after the environmental campaigning group criticized the company for using non-renewable sources to power its new data center.

Facebook announced a few days ago that it planned to double the size of the new data center, in Prineville, Oregon.

"We are making excellent progress on the first phase of our Prineville Data Center and we are hoping to finish construction of that phase in the first quarter of 2011," said Tom Furlong, Facebook's director of site operations.

"To meet the needs of our growing business, we have decided to go ahead with the second phase of the project, which was an option we put in place when we broke ground earlier this year. The second phase should be finished by early 2012."

But this is far from good news, says Greenpeace, which Greenpeace wants Facebook to commit to phasing out coal-fired electricity in favor of renewable sources, and disclose its greenhouse gas emissions. It says it's signed up more than half a million Facebook users to support its case.

And Greenpeace's international executive director Kumi Naidoo sent a letter yesterday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to take responsibility for his company's growing energy footprint and show some 'climate leadership'.

"As you are aware, following Facebook’s announcement to build a new data center in Prineville, Oregon, Greenpeace and over half a million Facebook users have expressed significant concerns with your decision to power this data center with dirty coal-fired electricity from PacificCorp, which runs an electricity mix that is disproportionately powered by coal, the largest source of global warming pollution," reads the letter.

"Other cloud-based companies face similar choices and challenges as you do in building data centers, yet many are making smarter and cleaner investments." Naidoo singles out Google for praise, citing the company's recent investment in a wind farm.
 
But Facebook is defending itself, claiming that Prineville will be one of the most efficient data centers in the world.

"Data center energy efficiency is measured by Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). The industry average for PUE ranges from 1.6 to over 2. Our Prineville data center will have a PUE of 1.15," says Barry Schnitt, Facebook's director of policy communications.

"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 percent versus about 50 percent). However, the efficiency we are able to achieve because of the climate of the region minimizes our overall carbon footprint."

And Schnitt even has a pop at Greenpeace itself.

"As recently as March of this year, they indicated that they had a number of servers in a rented data center in northern Virginia," he says. "Their representative commented that these servers are 'using whatever the grid mix is in Virginia'. The reporter on the story estimates that mix to be 46 percent from coal, 41 percent from nuclear, eight percent from natural gas, and just four percent of its power from renewable generation."

He concludes: "If an organization focused on environmental responsibility like Greenpeace can’t do better than the mix above for just a few servers, what options are available to Facebook?"