Yesterday, Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg about the social network's coal use. The full letter was posted on this blog, and in the blog's comments section a Facebook representative wrote an interesting response.

Here is Greenpeace policy analyst Gary Cook's reply:

Dear Barry:

Thanks for your response.

We appreciate your recognition that Facebook has a coal problem with its Oregon data center. However, where we disagree is your claim to be powerless to do anything about it as, like Greenpeace and others, Facebook simply has to buy whatever electricity is available. This is not the case for Greenpeace, and is certainly not the case for Facebook, who is an industrial scale consumer of electricity.

As evidenced by the 500,000 users who have asked Facebook to get off of coal, we expect and demand more leadership from such an innovative company that is a playing an important role in bringing the world together.

Facebook is buying electricity in bulk to meet the needs of 500 million+ users, and is becoming a very influential company both inside and outside the IT sector. The expected power consumption of the Oregon data center alone gives Facebook the purchasing power of 30,000-40,000 homes, which gives you the ability and standing to shape how power is generated in Oregon and far beyond.

As we have seen with other environmental challenges, motivated companies with big purchasing power can make a powerful difference in driving environmental solutions and policy change. Greenpeace’s recent campaign targeting Nestlé (using Facebook no less) over their purchase of palm oil that is destroying the rainforest in Indonesia led the company to change its procurement policy, and has now led Burger King to announce yesterday that they will no longer buy palm oil from this supplier. This is sending a powerful signal both to the marketplace and to the policy makers in Indonesia and well beyond.

Facebook must take responsibility for the significant impact its investment decisions on the location of its own datacenters and the source of electricity that is supplying both its own and those facilities it is renting can have. Efficiency is certainly important, but is only the beginning of taking responsibility for your rapidly growing energy and environmental footprint.

Google, Yahoo and others in the IT sector already understand that while efficiency is important, it is not the whole story. Given the rapid growth in the IT sector, they recognize the source of electricity is also an increasingly important consideration, that they have a responsibility and an important role to play, and are significantly increasing the amount of renewable electricity they are purchasing.

Ultimately, we need Facebook to work with Greenpeace and others in Oregon and elsewhere to push for the policy changes that will rapidly move us off of coal and toward renewable sources of energy.

The world’s top climate scientists tell us that we have as little as 5 years to stabilize global warming pollution globally, which means that we must move off of coal as rapidly as possible. As was highlighted in Greenpeace’s Make IT Green Report, at current growth rates, data centers and telecommunication networks that make up the cloud will consume more than the current electricity consumption of France, Germany, Canada and Brazil combined by 2020. Given this projected growth of energy use, it is essential that Facebook and others in the IT sector show leadership in driving a transformation in our production and use of electricity.

As was recently shown in Portugal, whose electricity grid recently underwent a transformation from 15% to 45% renewable sources in the span of five years, a rapid increase in clean energy is not only possible, it is good for the local economy. The IT sector itself has identified it has an important role in this transformation, estimating its ability to reduce energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions globally 15% by 2020, and Greenpeace is challenging the sector to use their innovation and influence to overcome the opposition of powerful utilities like Pacific Corp and the fossil fuel industry who are slowing this transition down, if not blocking it outright. We need Facebook to stand with us and others to make this transition happen, and happen soon.

We look forward to working with Facebook to help it and the rest of the world off of coal and to more renewables sources of energy as rapidly as possible.