September 2, 2010

Greenpeace Urges Facebook To Abandon Coal Power

Greenpeace said Wednesday that half-a-million Facebook users have now joined their campaign calling for the online social network to cancel plans to buy electricity from a coal-based energy company for its new data center.

Facebook announced its plan in January to build a large data center in Prineville, Oregon, saying that the new facility would run on coal. 

In a letter sent Wednesday to Facebook's Founder Mark Zuckerberg, Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said Facebook would jeopardize its reputation and financial health if it dismissed the environmental impacts of the move.

Facebook "has an increasingly essential role to play in helping to drive the deployment of renewable energy sources needed to avert the most devastating possible effects of our changing climate," wrote Naidoo in the letter.

"No global business leader, particularly not one who reaches so many people daily, could deny that in this time it is both a threat to a company's reputation and financial health risk to ignore their company's environmental impacts."

"Facebook is really out of step with the trend" among tech firms, said Naidoo in an interview with The Associated Press.

However, Facebook maintains that is committed to environmental responsibility, and that its data center will be "one of the most efficient in the world."

Greenpeace-sponsored groups involved in the campaign are urging Facebook to use 100 percent renewable energy. 

Facebook had made an "active choice to lean in the direction of dirty coal," said Naidoo.

Facebook responded by calling Greenpeace's campaign a simplistic explanation of how energy grids work.  The company said it selected the location of its data center because it could be energy efficient.

To say that Facebook "chose coal" is incorrect, said Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt.

The dry, high desert climate of Prineville, Oregon, means cool nighttime temperatures, something Schnitt said allowed Facebook's data center to operate without the power-hungry "chillers" typically used to cool buildings and prevent servers from overheating.

Naidoo said his organization selected Facebook for its campaign because of the company's global reach, particularly among young people.

IT companies such as Microsoft and others contribute an estimated 2 percent of man-made carbon emissions, comparable to that produced by the entire aviation industry, Greenpeace said.

The Amsterdam-based environmental group pointed to studies estimating that the IT industry has the ability to cut emissions by 15 percent within the next decade.

"Data centers are huge consumers of electricity, and with the shift to "cloud computing" platforms like Facebook just beginning to change how the Internet works, energy demand will continue to grow. Companies that run their data center on power from burning coal are supporting the biggest source of man-made CO2 emissions in the world," Greenpeace said.

PacifiCorp, which powers Facebook's data center, uses 83 percent coal in its energy mix, Greenpeace said.

However, PacifiCorp spokesman Tom Gauntt disputed this figure, saying the number is actually 58 percent.  The rest, he said, is natural gas at about 20 percent and hydro and renewable energy at roughly 10 percent each.

The full text of Mr. Naidoo's letter to Mr. Zuckerberg can be viewed at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/Cool-IT/executive-director-of-greenpeace-to-ceo-of-fa/blog/26324.