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Facebook Reports Emissions Data for the First Time

The annual carbon footprint of social networking site Facebook is equivalent to the footprint of a couple glasses of wine per active user, the company said this week, releasing data for the first time on emissions, energy mix and energy use.

The social networking giant reported the annual carbon footprint per monthly active user at 269 grams. Total emissions from data centers, office space, employee commuting, employee air travel, data center construction and server transportation was approximately 285,000 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

In 2011 the company used 23 percent clean and renewable power, 27 percent coal, 17 percent natural gas, 13 percent nuclear and 20 percent uncategorized (energy that’s purchased by utilities on the spot market and can include any or all of the above categories). The company’s total energy use from office space, data centers and other facilities was approximately 532 million kWh.

In a blog post the company said it was releasing the 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.”

Facebook rival Google released similar data for the first time last September, and at 1.46 million metric tonnes of carbon in 2010, Google’s footprint was roughly five times greater than Facebook’s.

Both companies seem to be responding to criticism over the last year and a half for a lack of transparency concerning their environmental impacts. In an April 2011 report on cloud-computing companies, Greenpeace gave Google an "F" on transparency and Facebook a "D". Since then both companies have opened up considerably. Greenpeace praised Google for taking a leadership position in energy policy among IT companies, and Facebook responded to Greenpeace’s call for clean energy use, setting a goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2015.

“In the short-term, reducing our impact and significantly altering our energy mix will be challenging,” Facebook wrote on its blog. “The reality is that as a fast-growing company our carbon footprint and energy mix may get worse before they get better.”

The company said it expects to see a steady increase in clean and renewable energy sources when it brings its new data center online in Lulea, Sweden, in 2014. That data center will make use of Sweden's cold climate to help cool the thousands of computer servers housed at the facility. 

Facebook shares its strategies for energy-efficient data center operation with the industry at large via its Open Compute Project. The company now has a policy of siting data centers in locations that have access to clean and renewable energy sources and incorporating a renewable energy component to every new data center.

Bart King is a PR/marketing communications consultant and principal at Cleantech Communications.

Bart King is the principal of New Growth Communications, a network of affiliated content producers and strategists serving clients in the emerging green economy. He is also Associate Editor of Sponsored Content for Sustainable Brands. Follow him @bart_king [Read more about Bart King]

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