Facebook: Unfriend Coal We've been talking a lot about Facebook lately. We were alarmed in January by the company's announcement that it would build a coal-powered data center in Prineville, Oregon. So we started a little group to ask the company not to use dirty energy to power our profiles. That group grew and grew as Facebook users across the globe joined up to tell Facebook to get off of coal. And as of this week, the group is half-a-million strong.

Then, we were further dismayed by Facebook's second announcement about its data center: it plans to double its size! That means twice the energy use, twice the coal, and twice the global warming pollution. Why isn't Facebook listening to its users?

Facebook data centreThose 500,000 Facebook users have gotten someone's attention, though. Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, has heard our message and is taking up the charge. In a letter sent today, Kumi asks Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, to take responsibility for his company's growing energy footprint and show some climate leadership.

Climate leadership is the focus of the Cool IT Challenge, which encourages IT companies to apply their technological know-how and innovative spriit to solving the climate crisis. The campaign urges IT companies to put forth solutions, mitigate their own carbon footprint, and advocate for significant policy changes in the mutual interest of business and the climate.

Here is the complete text of Kumi's letter to Mr. Zuckerberg:

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

Climate scientists around the world tell us that global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015 in order to stay within a critical temperature threshold to have a chance of avoiding runaway global warming. To do this, we must break our addiction to oil, coal, and other dirty fossil fuels and transition away from them as rapidly as possible. Given the tremendous growth of IT cloud computing companies like Facebook expected in this same period, your company has an increasingly essential role to play in helping to drive the deployment of renewable energy sources needed to avert the most devastating possible effects of our changing climate. 

Facebook, which now connects over 500 million people, has a responsibility to exhibit good corporate citizenship toward the growing public it serves. No global business leader, particularly not one who reaches so many people daily, could deny that in this time it is both a threat to a company’s reputation and financial health risk to ignore their company’s environmental impacts.

Facebook appears to be on a path that will make breaking our addiction to dirty coal-fired electricity even more difficult. As you are aware, following Facebook’s announcement to build a new data center in Prineville, OR, Greenpeace and over half a million Facebook users have expressed significant concerns with your decision to power this data center with dirty coal-fired electricity from PacificCorp, which runs an electricity mix that is disproportionately powered by coal, the largest source of global warming pollution.

Despite this controversy, Facebook’s recent announcement that it will more than double the size of the Prineville facility, and thus double the demand for dirty coal energy in Oregon, is a disturbing sign that Facebook remains on the wrong path.

Other cloud-based companies face similar choices and challenges as you do in building data centers, yet many are making smarter and cleaner investments. Google, for instance, entered into a long-term agreement with a large wind power producer earlier this month. It has demonstrated that it is not only possible to prioritize the purchase of clean energy, but prudent as well.

Greenpeace regularly uses Facebook to engage its supporters and their friends to hold other corporations accountable for their environmental impact. Facebook’s innovative and easy-to-use platform has enabled it to become an incredibly important tool for connecting people to engage in driving social change. Facebook is uniquely positioned to be a truly visible and influential leader to drive the deployment of clean energy.   

Greenpeace has spent the last six years focusing a significant portion of our corporate engagement within the IT industry. We have worked with a number of companies including Hewlett Packard, Toshiba, and Google on corporate and government policy issues. We have seen big progress ranging from curbing electronic waste to eliminating toxic chemicals from IT equipment. More recently we have been tackling energy and climate change issues. We see the potential for the sector to use the hallmark values of innovation and competitiveness that are pervasive in the IT world to become leaders in the fight against many of our greatest environmental challenges, including global warming.

Given that your corporate and public policies on the environment have not been articulated, we would welcome the opportunity to sit down with you and your team to hear what work Facebook has planned and to discuss the steps we feel would put Facebook in a leadership position on climate change within the IT sector. Key areas of leadership for Facebook should include:

  1. Commit to a plan to phase out the use of dirty coal-fired electricity to power your data centers;

  2. Use your purchasing power to choose locations that allow you to rely on only clean, renewable sources of electricity;

  3. Advocate for strong climate and energy policy changes at the local, national and international level to ensure that as the IT industry's energy demand increases, so does the supply of renewable energy;

  4. Disclosure your greenhouse gas emissions inventory (through mechanisms such as the carbon disclosure project);

  5. Share this plan for environmental stewardship publicly on your website so your hundred of millions of users know that your company is a climate leader.

It is with the interest of your company, your millions of users, and our planet in mind that I urge you to exercise bold and immediate leadership in addressing climate change. I invite you to engage with me in dialogue regarding these points, as I am sure that with further discussion regarding your company’s environmental goals and growth plans, we will be able to reach common ground. I look forward to your response.


Kumi Naidoo

Executive Director

Greenpeace International