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Facebook Unfriends Coal and Likes Clean Energy Thanks to Greenpeace

| Friday December 16th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Greenpeace is celebrating another successful campaign. This time it’s the “Unfriend Coal” Campaign that called on Facebook to power its data centers with clean energy instead of coal. After 20 months of mobilizing, agitating and negotiating to green Facebook, and with more than 700,000 people who took part in its campaign, Greenpeace announced that Facebook finally agreed to go green, presenting a new commitment to give preference to clean and renewable energy.

The new agreement between Greenpeace and Facebook shows not only the journey Facebook completed during these 20 months, but also how Greenpeace is becoming one of the most powerful players in the world when it comes to mobilizing businesses and encouraging them to do the right thing.

Greenpeace Unfriend Coal campaign started after Facebook announced the construction of a massive data center in Oregon in February, 2010. This facility was supposed to be very energy efficient, but at the same time receive power from PacifiCorp, whose energy mix is mainly based on coal. Greenpeace urged Facebook to increase the use of clean energy and ran an impressive online campaign with 700,000 online participants.

At first, Facebook claimed Greenpeace’s explanation of energy grids was too simplistic, stating that the company chose the location in Oregon because it could be energy efficient. The relationship between the two warmed up a little bit last month when Facebook announced on its new data center in Sweden, which will be getting most of its power from hydropower energy.  “This is a great step forward for Facebook, but we would like more details on how much renewable energy will power its data center in Lulea,” said back then Casey Harrell, Greenpeace IT analyst.

And now it’s an official love affair. “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. Greenpeace wasn’t short of compliments as well: “The good people at Facebook also deserve our thanks for rising to the challenge and setting the bar for Internet companies with its data centre siting policy.”

If you look at the details of the agreement, you see that Facebook wasn’t the only one that needed to make some adjustments to its initial positions – there are also differences between the original demands Greenpeace made with the pledges Facebook eventually made. The table below provides the comparison between the two:

Greenpeace’s original demand from FacebookFacebook’s pledge on the agreement (alone or together with Greenpeace)Level of compromise on Greenpeace’s end
To increase Facebook’s use of clean energy- Adopting a siting policy that states a preference for access to clean and renewable energy supply.- Engaging in a dialogue with our utility providers about increasing the supply of clean energy that power Facebook data centers.Low-Medium
Develop a plan to mitigate Facebook’s climate footprint and to become coal free by 2021Ongoing research into clean energy solutions for our future data centersHigh
Educate Facebook users about how the company powers its servicesWorking together to develop and promote experiences on Facebook that help people and organizations connect with ways to save energy and engage their communities in clean energy issues.Low
Advocate for clean energy at a local, national and international levelJointly engaging other large energy users and producers to address the energy choice they are facing and develop new clean energy rather than recommission coal plants or build new coal plants.Low

 

As you can see Greenpeace had to compromise with regards to its initial demand that Facebook will become coal free by 2021. It might seem like it’s not such a big deal, after all it was only one out of four demands, but this was the only demand that includes a measurable goal. In addition, there’s also an element of vagueness in Facebook’s pledge to prefer renewable energy – Facebook is pledging to give preference to clean energy, but would it be at any cost, or only if it doesn’t cost the company? It’s not clear to what extent this pledge verifies that Facebook will use much more clean and renewable energy for its future data centers.

Still, this is an important progress. As Greenpeace knows very well, there’s black and white only in the world of watchdogs. The world of green business is about the shades of grey and most of the time compromise is necessary to actually get something done. At the end of the day we have Facebook, a powerful global company, which is announcing it will go green, and use its power and influence to encourage others, both users and energy suppliers to do the same. No matter how you look at it, this is an achievement we should applaud to. Certainly, we should give it a ‘like.’

Image credit: Greenpeace International

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.


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