Greenpeace Loses Round Two in Tiff with Facebook

Greenpeace Loses Round Two in Tiff with Facebook

Glass houses, stones, etc. That's the sort of lesson coming out from the latest round in the Greenpeace vs. Facebook skirmish currently afoot on the internet.

To recap, briefly: In January, Facebook told the world it was opening a green data center, one that set a target of a highly energy efficient 1.15 power usage effectiveness ratio.

In mid-February, advocacy groups including Change.org as well as Greenpeace called Facebook out for not using renewable energy to power its planned data center. As I wrote back then:

The complaints arise from the fact that Facebook has contracted with PacifiCorp subsidiary Pacific Power to supply the energy for the facility.... While Pacific Power gets some hydropower from [the hydroelectric generator Bonneville Power Administration], its primary power-generation fuel is coal, according to Jason Carr, the manager of the Prineville office of economic development for Central Oregon....

Some of the largest tech companies have sited their data centers in the same region where Facebook plans to build, and one of the primary drivers for those choices is that hydroelectric power comes in large quantities and rock-bottom prices from dams on the Columbia River.

Although the complaint from Greenpeace marked the first time I'd heard of a company or a data center getting dinged for the electric grid on which it was sited, the campaign took off: Greenpeace's Facebook group, "We want facebook to use 100% renewable energy" currently has over 129,000 members.

Late last month, reported David Holley at the Bend (Ore.) Bulletin reported that Greenpeace's San Francisco and New York offices also draw energy from nonrenewable sources, and that Greenpeace's West Virginia data center is "majority powered" by wind energy.

Then (finally), last week, Rich Miller at DataCenterKnowledge went a bit deeper, reporting that Greenpeace's data needs are served a Dutch data center that uses renewable energy credits to offset its carbon emissions, and that the group also uses a colocation facility that is powered under northern Virginia's electric grid -- a grid that uses about 46 percent coal and 41 percent nuclear to generate electricity.

While Greenpeace told Miller that it had signed its contract with its colocation provider five years ago, before renewables had the market foothold they currently do (which is still not much, of course), the fact remains that both Facebook and now Greenpeace are being criticized for what should reasonably be considered the last phase of the greening of data centers; it's far more important to design these energy-hogging facilities to run efficiently than it is to ensure the most pristine energy source possible.

And that's Facebook's stance as well: "Facebook's commitment is, regardless of generation source, to use electricity as wisely and as efficiently as possible," a company spokesman told Miller.

Greenpeace isn't airing the dirty laundry of its own data centers' PUEs; Global Switch doesn't list efficiency details for its Amsterdam facility, but it seems to me that using less energy -- almost regardless of where it comes from, is a better policy than simply offsetting the energy you use.