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Google’s Green Czar Leaves for Facebook

RP Siegel | Thursday December 29th, 2011 | 1 Comment

In November 2011, Bill Weihl, left his post as the Green Czar at Google. Weihl oversaw much of Google’s $700M investments in clean energy and was a driving force behind Google’s Green Dream otherwise known as The Impact of Clean Energy Innovation.

Now, it seems that Dr. Weihl, a former Computer Science professor at MIT, will be joining social networking giant Facebook, with its 800 million users. He told Fresh Dialogues that, “the focus will be on sustainability, clean energy, energy efficiency, etc.”

Both software companies have been criticized for their energy use and their lack of transparency, though Google did eventually disclose its carbon footprint back in September. At that time they claimed that their data centers were twice as efficient as most, using only 180 watt-hours per user per month, roughly the equivalent of each user turning a night light on for one hour a day.

As for Facebook, it took a 20-month long campaign by Greenpeace to convince the company to “unfriend coal,” by purchasing from utilities other than PacifiCorp, who relies heavily on coal. On Greenpeace’s 2010 Clean Cloud Power Report Card, Facebook had one of the worst scores of all the tech companies rated. But in a smart, if-you-can’t beat-‘em-join-‘em move, Facebook announced last week, that they would partner with Greenpeace to support and embrace renewable energy.

Specifically, according to the agreement, Facebook will:

  • Adopt a siting policy that favors a clean and renewable energy supply
  • Conduct research into data center energy efficiency and openly share results through the Open Compute Project
  • Engage in dialogue with utility providers about increasing the supply of clean energy that powers Facebook data centers

At the same time, Greenpeace will:

  • Actively support the Open Compute Project, encouraging companies to join the effort, use the technology, and share their technology
  • Encourage utility providers to offer ways for customers to get their utility data, including by joining the partnership with Facebook, NRDC, and Opower
  • Recognize company leadership in advancing and sharing best practices in efficiency or sustainability technology

Together the two groups will work together to develop and promote experiences on Facebook that help people to find ways to save energy and engage their communities in clean energy issues, by co-hosting roundtables and discussions with experts on energy issues, and jointly encouraging other large energy users and producers to address their energy choices.

It seems like an ideal time for a new energy czar to come on board. Facebook is planning a solar energy system at its new Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters that will provide both electricity and hot water. Its newest green data center uses 38 percent less energy than comparable existing facilities, while costing 24 percent less. The company also developed a new programming language, HipHop for PHP, which  cuts the number of servers required to do a given amount of work in half. (To see how software programming can reduce energy consumption, check out our series on data center efficiency, underwritten by Microsoft.)

Weihl held the green energy czar title at Google from February 2006 to November 2011. Before that he worked as an independent consultant at Akamai Technologies, Compaq and Digital Equipment Corp. Since 1997, Weihl has also been vice-president and co-chair of the board of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative.

Another reason for Facebook to bring in a green czar now is because it dodged a bullet last year when the Carbon Disclosure Project hammered Amazon for what the organization called a lack of transparency. Facebook was just as bad, but as a private company it wasn’t included in the CDP report. But as Facebook considers making its stock market debut in the second quarter of 2012, all that could change.

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RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water.  Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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  • http://twitter.com/tedkidd Ted Kidd

    Nice post Bob.

    https://www.cdproject.net/SiteCollectionImages/quotes/quote-adairturner.jpg

    The first step to managing carbon emissions is to measure them because in business, what gets measured gets managed – Lord Adair Turner

    We need to take this thinking to the residential sector.  

    Most people have little idea what they spend, and no idea what they use.  ”How many therms did I use last year? Who knows? …and what’s a THERM?!”

    The utility companies like it that way, they seem to purposely make the data they provide little more than completely useless.