Facebook announced today a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75% and powering its global operations with 100% renewable energy by the end of 2020. The announcement comes at the end of what Facebook is calling “a record-breaking year of corporate renewable energy purchases,” adding that the company is on track to be one of the largest corporate purchasers of renewable energy.
While reducing carbon emissions is an important goal for the company, the social media giant says that, despite its growth and expansion of services since 2004, its carbon impact per person has remained about the same: that is, about 300g of CO2e per year (less than boiling a pot of water for tea or making one medium latte, the company points out).
Since its first purchase of wind power in 2013, Facebook has signed contracts for over 3 gigawatts of new solar and wind energy, the company says. “All of these wind and solar projects are new and on the same grid as our data centers,” the announcement claims. “That means that each of these projects brings jobs, investment and a healthier environment to the communities that host us…”
In 2015, Facebook set a goal of supporting 50% of its facilities with renewable energy by 2018. The company achieved that goal a year early, reaching 51% clean and renewable energy in 2017.
Offices and other business activity account for 38% of its carbon footprint. The other 62% is from its data centers. Managing data center carbon intensity is a key priority, the Facebook says. Similarly, offices account for 29% of the company’s water usage, with the other 71% coming from data center operations.
How Are They Doing It?
Access to clean and renewable energy is a key criterion for where the company locates its data centers. Facebook works with energy developers and utilities to help add more renewable sources of electricity to regional grids.
Because the ability to track efficiency is a key to improving it, the company created power usage effectiveness (PUE) and water usage effectiveness (WUE) dashboards, which show, in real time, the water and energy effectiveness of the data centers it owns.
Because data centers generate a significant amount of heat, most data centers use large amounts of water for cooling. Facebook, instead, uses fresh air pulled in from outside and, when needed, efficient water evaporation technology. Any excess warm air gets recycled or sent back outside.
Why Are They Doing It? (Not Just for the Environment)
Facebook and other major tech companies are under increasing pressure to better manage power for data centers and add renewables, according to a recent market report from Transparency Market Research (TMR) – and Facebook is not the only one stepping up to the challenge.
Apple, for example, reached its goal of having 100% renewable energy for all of the company’s data centers in 2013 through a combination of solar and wind power, the market research firm pointed out.
Companies like Apple, IBM, Cisco Systems and Equinox are consistently investing in research and development to improve renewable energy efficiency, according to the report.
Data Center Environmental Announcements
Each announcement from Facebook regarding its new data centers seems to be accompanied by long lists of the sustainability aspects of the new facility. Most recently, the social media giant announced it will build a nearly 1 million-square-foot data center at the foot of Eagle Mountain in Utah in a way that is designed to be “incredibly water-efficient.” Facebook will purchase its own water rights and construct the required water infrastructure.
The data center will also include a new electrical substation that will bring 1,000 megawatts of new power delivery capacity to the region. It will be powered by 100%, net-new renewable energy through utilization of Rocky Mountain Power’s available renewable energy tariffs.
Last year, Facebook pledged its support for climate action by supporting the Paris Agreement through the We Are Still In initiative.
The company offers a simple chart of its sustainability data for 2017 here.