Greenpeace vs. Facebook: Who is Using More Coal?

I’m all for a snarky cause marketing campaign to expose dirty energy polluters. However, I’m not sure that the recent Greenpeace jab at Facebook will accomplish what it is intended to do.

Greenpeace released a video this week that criticizes  Facebook’s use of coal-fired electricity in its Oregon data center. The animated video is narrated by a cheeky British child. The child that tells an abbreviated version of Mark Zuckerberg’s life trajectory in creating Facebook (with a storyline akin to the new movie, “The Social Network”).

At the end of the video, we learn that Zuckerberg has chosen to use coal to power the Facebook data center. The video campaign suggests that Facebook members should encourage Facebook to invest in clean energy instead.

Is a campaign like this effective for motivating companies to seek out clean energy for their business operations?

So far, the Greenpeace campaign on Facebook has attracted over 600,000 people to their “So Coal Network” group. But how has Facebook responded?

According to, Facebook’s Director of Policy Communications, Barry Schnitt, publicly stated in a letter that:

“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.”

“At the same time, it is simply untrue to say that we chose coal as a source of power. The suggestions of “choosing coal” ignores the fact that there is no such thing as a coal-powered data center.”

Schnitt also noted that Greenpeace’s own servers in a rented data center in Northern Virginia run on 46% coal.

Greenpeace responded in turn by saying that Facebook has significant power to demand more renewable energy sources. They said Facebook should follow the lead set forth by Google and Yahoo to influence local power generation.

Thus far, the campaign has succeeded in building expanded awareness for renewable energy (actually, the video did a remarkable job in explaining the dangers of burning coal.) But there is a specific action goal in mind – to publicly berate Facebook in order to get the company to buy cleaner energy. In this respect, it is not clear that the campaign has been effective at all.

So, what have we learned from this case about creating effective social marketing campaigns?

1- “Let he who sins not cast the first stone.” That was just silly for Greenpeace to point out data center energy usage, especially when their own performance on that measure was not that much better.

2- If your message is not 100% credible, then it demeans the integrity of the campaign. Greenpeace created a visually entertaining video presentation, but it was a little oversimplified in its argument and approach.

3- Constructive and creative engagement wins over criticism. While pointing fingers is fun, the campaign could have more potential for achieving its target if Greenpeace developed a cooperative relationship with Facebook.

Do you think Greenpeace did it right? What else do you think we can take away from this example?

Shannon Arvizu, Ph.D., is a clean-tech educator and marketer. Find out more at

Shannon Arvizu, Ph.D., is a clean tech educator and cutting-edge consultant for the auto industry. You can follow her test drives in the cars of the future at

5 responses

  1. A real solution to the problem of carbon emissions is going to take political action to impose nationwide carbon taxes. The fact is that most businesses and individuals are not going use “green” energy sources that cost more than readily available “dirty” sources. A carbon tax will even out the playing field and create massive demand for low-carbon emitting energy and help bring down the cost of clean energy.

  2. I like this approach. Let’s try Ebay next. Ebay is located in California which has no coal (by law) and some very expensive electricity (probably as a result).
    So Ebay built its data center in Utah with 82% coal and cheap electricity. I think this is very bad policy. Ebay basically setup in a third world country (Utah) due to its lax pollution policy.

    John C. Briggs

    1. California gets tons of power from coal – especially SoCal. Something like 60% of LA is powered by coal, though it all comes from Utah so it doesn’t show up on those lists. I don’t understand how CA gets away with pretending to be coal-free

  3. These data centers need to be located in places with cold winters near cold water – like Duluth, MN They could be run basically free, slap a few wind turbines offshore, run cold water through them all the time.

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