Can Facebook activate a billion consumers to be green?

Note: I’ll be interviewing Bill Weihl, Facebook’s manager of energy efficiency and sustainability, on stage at VERGE @ Greenbuild, November 12-13 in San Francisco. Click here for more information.

What if you had the opportunity to engage a billion people around sustainability? What issues would you choose? What messages would you impart? How would you leverage the opportunity to affect behavior change at scale?

Carefully, no doubt. Pushing folks too hard or in the wrong direction or with a less-than-compelling message might squander the opportunity, maybe even turn people off. But inform and inspire such a sizeable audience to act and — well, anything’s possible.

That’s the delicious dilemma of Bill Weihl and his team at Facebook, which in recent months have been thinking hard about tools, partners, and strategies it can deploy on its massive, billion-member platform. It’s an unprecedented opportunity, online or off, one that no other company on the planet has enjoyed.

I spoke with Weihl recently about that opportunity, as well as how Facebook is approaching its own environmental footprint, and how it is sharing its leadership in the design of computer servers and data centers to have an impact beyond its own operations.

Facebook represents the latest high-leverage opportunity for Weihl, who left his previous job, as Google’s “energy czar,” late last year to join the social media company in January as its first Manager of Energy Efficiency and Sustainability. That title doesn’t really do justice to Weihl’s broad portfolio there. The title indicated in his email signature — “sustainability guru” — comes closer.

I began our conversation by asking Weihl what prompted his move from one Internet giant to another. “Two things,” he said. The first was “the opportunity to join an organization again that's very early in its evolution and work on sustainability, and to help figure out what makes sense and what works in this young, small organization to really drive sustainability.”

Related to that, he said, is the extent to which Facebook “has already been very active in being transparent about its operations around its datacenter designs, trying to engage the whole industry and the whole ecosystem in the industry around making those designs much more efficient, and having that happen faster for everybody, as opposed to just for us.”

Next page: Leveraging the platform