Facebook becomes renewable energy activist

Social networking giant will include renewable energy criteria in its data center siting decisions.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

As I hope you have heard, Facebook cozied up to Greenpeace this week, saying that it will do a better job of using renewable energy to power its data center. And that it will do a better job at talking about advocating that policy. Publicly.

As ZDNet's Facebook commentator Emil Protalinski writes, the new friendship comes after months of needling by Greenpeace -- which took serious issue with the social networking giant's decision to site a major new data center in utility territory that relied heavily on coal.

In the press release about the relationship, Facebook sustainability representative Marcy Scott Lynn said:

"As an important step, our data center siting policy now states a preference for access to clean and renewable energy. Another important step will be to work with Greenpeace to put the power of our platform to use for the environment."

Facebook took baby steps toward appeasing Greenpeace -- and its other critics -- earlier this year with the formation of the Open Compute Project, which seeking to accelerate approaches for energy-efficient data center technology design.

But the new alliance with Greenpeace will see Facebook become an activist, if you will, for renewable energy technologies at the expense of coal.

That alone is a significant gesture, especially amid flagging government support for renewable energy incentives. Some of those incentives are set to expire starting at the end of 2011. Given the environment-hostile mood that has settled over Washington along with the gridlock related to pretty much every piece of legislation suggested, it is reasonable to expect that extensions for those incentives aren't exactly a priority.

But if more data center-hungry companies like Facebook -- especially those with enormous cloud computing aspirations like Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter and Google -- were to sound the call for more renewable energy options and to start asking questions about their energy sources, smart utility companies would get the message that renewable energy is preferable to coal.

Call it a subtle form of capitalistic activism.

Now, if we could just make sure renewable energy is also cheaper or at least cost-equivalent with coal, then everyone would be happy.

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