Facebook, Greenpeace Now Clean Energy Friends

Greenpeace claimed victory today – literally – in its battle to get Facebook to make a strong commitment toward renewable energy. In an agreement [PDF] between the two parties, Facebook said it will factor the availability of renewable energy into the siting of its power-hungry data centers and will lobby for more clean energy from the utilities who provide it power.

“After 20 months of mobilising, agitating and negotiating to green Facebook, the Internet giant has today announced its goal to run on clean, renewable energy,” Greenpeace said on its website, under a story headlined, “Victory! Facebook ‘friends’ renewable energy.”

image via Facebook

Greenpeace began poking at Facebook on its energy approach in February 2010, after the company announced it would open a data center in the central Oregon town of Prineville. The center includes plenty of energy-efficiency features – including an evaporative cooling system, use of outside air for cooling for most of the year and reuse of server heat – but Greenpeace and other critics seized on the fact that the local utility, Pacific Power, gets 60 percent of its electricity from burning coal. Nationally, 45 percent of electricity is produced from coal, according to government data.

Greenpeace inspired hundreds of thousands of people to ask Facebook to “unfriend coal,” and one day in April this year got more than 80,000 people to post a comment to a note calling on Facebook to reject coal-based power. The relationship between the two groups became acrimonious at times, but took on a different tone in October when Facebook’s plans to build a data center in Sweden that would run largely on renewably sourced power were revealed.

Now, all is lovey-dovey between the two parties.

“Facebook’s commitment to renewable energy raises the bar for other IT and cloud computing companies such as Apple, IBM, Microsoft, and Twitter,” Casey Harrell, Senior IT Analyst for Greenpeace  International, said in a statement. ”The Facebook campaign proved that people all over the world want their social networks powered by renewable energy, and not by coal. Greenpeace will continue to measure, report and campaign on the sector’s progress to green the cloud.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.