Facebook unfriends coal

Facebook has shown today it is serious about its push to Unfriend Coal.

The social networking company published its 2011 energy and carbon footprint data and announced a 2015 goal of powering 25% of the platform with renewable energy.

In doing so, it set an important benchmark for the company to fulfill its goal to be fully powered by clean and renewable energy.

The news shows that the company wants the world – including all of you who helped change Facebook – to follow its progress.

Unfortunately, the transparency Facebook exhibited today is still rare among companies who are racing to build our online world, where some of the largest companies behind the cloud, such as Amazon, still refuse to disclose any information about their energy use and mix.

Facebook won’t be able to unfriend coal overnight, and the dirty energy mix for its rapidly growing data centers in Oregon and North Carolina means its footprint will get dirtier before it gets cleaner.

Facebook’s goal of powering 25% of its platform with renewable energy by 2015 appears modest at first, and reflects the challenge Facebook faces in finding a clean supply of electricity from local utilities for those two data centers.

However, Facebook’s siting policy prioritising clean energy for new data centers will help it meet and eventually exceed its goal, and other companies who want a clean cloud should make a similar commitment.

Facebook has also pledged to push the utilities currently selling it dirty energy to move toward cleaner sources; that is the kind of leadership that IT companies will need to embrace in order to build a clean cloud.

Greater transparency from Facebook and others is critical to ensuring that the skyrocketing growth of cloud computing is powered by clean sources of energy.

The aggregate energy footprint of the cloud would already rank fifth among countries in terms of electricity demand and is expected to triple or quadruple in the very near future.

That growth can be the engine that creates a global clean energy economy, but first other companies have to join Facebook in accepting the challenge to move toward clean energy.