Can Facebook activate a billion consumers to be green?

One signature Facebook initiative is the Open Compute Project, launched 18 months ago to openly share custom data center designs that improve server and data-center efficiency. Its initial focus was to publish data center designs it developed for its Prineville, Ore., facility, as well as its custom designs for servers, power supplies and backup power units. The move was a departure from Weihl’s former employer, Google, which also worked hard to improve server and data center efficiency, but which kept the details of its innovations close to the vest. Open Compute has since been spun off as an independent nonprofit organization whose members include Advanced Micro Devices, Dell, HP, Intel, Rackspace, Salesforce.com, and VMware.

“We leveraged our brand and the influence we have through that in getting Open Compute off the ground, getting others to agree to join us in it, and continuing to drive that to produce real results,” said Weihl. “There have been new specs coming about Open Compute every few months in terms of new rack designs, new storage server designs that provide both greater plug-and-play ability, as well as greater efficiency.”

Weihl’s role at Facebook puts him in the center of a lot of activity. He sits in the company’s infrastructure organization, which runs data centers and other core activities. He has a small team of direct reports, as well as “a few people scattered around the company — or, really, I should say embedded in the company in various places where sustainability is relevant,” such as real estate and facilities. “We don't just have a group off in a corner that's doing sustainability,” he notes.

“We've also got some people on our platform partnership team. These are the people who develop documentation and put on hackathons and hold seminars to teach people how to use our platform more effectively. Sometimes they work one-on-one with key partners. We've got a couple people there who have been helping people who are writing applications to solve sustainability problems.”

It’s that last effort — Weihl’s second reason for moving from Google to Facebook —that most interested me: How the company can use its massive platform, which crossed the billion-member threshold this month, to promote sustainability-minded behaviors.

It’s just getting going. Last year, Facebook partnered with Opower to use social media to influence people's energy use and behavior. Opower launched an application that uses Facebook’s platform to allow people to compare their energy use with others and compete with friends. Similarly, Recyclebank — which rewards people for taking everyday green actions with discounts and deals from local and national businesses — uses Facebook (as well as Twitter) to let its members interact with or access the site’s content via mobile devices.

I asked Weihl how the Opower partnership is going. “The app has now been out for about six months and the engagement has been unbelievably high,” he said. “When people start using the app, a very high percentage of them continue to use it on a regular basis, and I think that's something that is very, very encouraging.”

Meanwhile, he says, Opower is working on new features. “They are trying to learn and move fast and iterate, and we're trying to do that with them. As they add things like gamification, competitions, and badges, I think engagement should get higher, and we should see the adoption of the app spread virally in a much more significant way.”

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