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Facebook Carbon Footprint Data Shared For First Time Ever

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe’s Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Zuckerberg and Co open up on environmental footprint of the social network

Facebook was today praised for being transparent with energy usage data, after the firm released information on its carbon footprint for the first time ever.

The social networking giant was under pressure from campaign group Greenpeace last year to open up on its environmental impact, which it subsequently pledged to do. Late last year, Google released figures on its own carbon footprint for the first time ever, claiming it produced 1.5 million tonnes of carbon annually.

Today, Facebook, which is is hoping to power 25 percent of its platform with renewable energy by 2015, revealed its energy use in 2011 used by office spaces, data centres and other facilities came to approximately 532 million kWh. It produced 285,000 metric tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent, which includes greenhouse gases CO2, CH4, N2O, and hydrofluorocarbons).

Its main source of energy was coal, at 27 percent, with clean and renewable energy providing 23 percent of Facebook’s power for the year. As for the rest, 17 percent came from natural gas, 13 percent from nuclear and 20 percent from uncategorised sources, which Facebook described as “energy that’s purchased by utilities on the spot market and can include any or all of the above categories”.

The UK’s deputy prime minister Nick Clegg recently announced that every firm on the London Stock Exchange will have to include carbon emissions in its annual report.

One latte, please!

“We’re releasing this data because we believe in the power of openness, and because we hope that adding another data point to our collective understanding of our industry’s environmental impact will help us all keep improving,” said Facebook.

“The total annual carbon footprint per monthly active Facebook user is 269 grams. To put this number into context, one person’s Facebook use for all of 2011 had roughly the same carbon footprint as one medium latte. Or three large bananas. Or a couple of glasses of wine.”

Greenpeace, which has been working with Facebook on the “Unfriend Coal” campaign, said today marked an important milestone for the company and “for an industry that needs to be more transparent about its energy use”.

“Facebook has committed to being fully renewably powered and today’s detailed disclosure and announcement of a clean energy target shows that the company means business and wants the world to follow its progress,” said Greenpeace senior IT analyst Gary Cook.

“Unfortunately, the transparency Facebook exhibited today is still rare among companies who are racing to build our online world, where some of the largest companies behind the cloud, such as Amazon, still refuse to disclose any information about their energy use and mix.

“Greater transparency from Facebook and others is critical to ensure that the skyrocketing growth of cloud computing is powered by clean sources of energy.”

Facebook and Greenpeace warned that it would not be easy to reduce the social network’s carbon footprint. “The reality is that as a fast-growing company our carbon footprint and energy mix may get worse before they get better,” Facebook said. “We know this is going to be a stretch for us, and we’re still figuring out exactly what it will take to get there.”

The company promised to continue to look at where it could use renewable sources of energy in its data centres, which suck up far more resources than any other part of Facebook’s business, at 509 million kWh in 2011.

See below for Facebook’s breakdown of its energy use last year:

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