Facebook’s Response to Greenpeace

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The environmental group Greenpeace International says Facebook should rethink plans for its new Oregon data center and is urging Facebook users to join a group calling for the new facility to run entirely on renewable energy, rather than using utility power that generates a majority of its power from coal. After we noted Facebook’s response in our comments earlier this week, the issue has been getting attention from environmental groups and green blogs, which then sparked interest from Greenpeace.

“Given the massive amounts of electricity that even energy-efficient data centers consume to run computers, backup power units, and power related cooling equipment, the last thing we need to be doing is building them in places where they are increasing demand for dirty coal-fired power,” the group said in a statment, which was published on the Greenpeace web site and also on The Huffington Post. “Facebook and the cloud should be run on clean renewable energy … Facebook could and should be championing clean energy solutions, and not relying on the dirty fuel sources of the past to power their new data center.”

Greenpeace has urged Facebook users to join a Facebook group titled Tell Facebook to use Clean Energy for its Data Center.

“It is simply untrue to say that we chose coal as a source of power,” Facebook said in response to Greenpeace. “The suggestions of ‘choosing coal’ ignores the fact that there is no such thing as a coal-powered data center. Similarly, there is no such thing as a hydroelectric-powered data center. Every data center plugs into the grid offered by their utility or power provider.”

Here is Facebook’s updated response, in its entirety:

Overall, we’re thrilled at our choice in Oregon and that we’re challenging the industry to think creatively to meet the standards we’ve set in efficiency. As we continue to grow, we’re committed to environmental responsibility and will be seeking and evaluating more ways to minimize and offset our impact on the planet. In selecting Oregon, we chose a region that offers a uniquely dry and temperate climate. This climate enables us to design what we believe to be one of, if not the most, energy efficient data centers in the world. Specifically, most data centers use mechanical chillers or large air conditioners for part, if not all, of the year to cool the computers within the facility. These mechanical chillers use a lot of energy and are only exceeded in their energy use by the thousands of computers inside the data center. Because of the climate around Prineville and our unique design, we won’t use any mechanical chillers. None. We won’t even build any. Instead, the data center will use an innovative evaporative cooling system.

Here is an example to illustrate. Imagine two identical houses with all of the same power consumption inside (appliances, electronics, etc.) only one is cooled by a large air conditioner and the other is cooled by ceiling fans. Obviously, the house with the fans will use significantly less energy. That’s why you may get rebates from your power company when you install a ceiling fan and why our data center will use less energy to deliver our service to users. In case you’re wondering, we’ll also be using industry-leading and our own innovative technology to keep the computers themselves much more efficient than industry averages.

At the same time, it is simply untrue to say that we chose coal as a source of power. The suggestions of “choosing coal” ignores the fact that there is no such thing as a coal-powered data center. Similarly, there is no such thing as a hydroelectric-powered data center. Every data center plugs into the grid offered by their utility or power provider. The electrons powering that data center are produced by the various sources (e.g. hydro, natural gas, coal, geothermal, nuclear, etc.) the provider uses in proportions similar to the mix of sources used. That is, if 25% of the providers energy comes from natural gas, it’s a good guess that 25% of the electrons powering the facility come from that source. Even when a facility is in close proximity to an individual source of energy, such a dam or coal plant, there is no guarantee that the electrons from that source are flowing to the facility at any particular time.

It’s true that the local utility for the region we chose, Pacific Power, has an energy mix that is weighted slightly more toward coal than the national average. However, the efficiency we are able to achieve because of the climate of the region and the reduced energy usage that results minimizes our overall carbon footprint. Said differently, if we located the data center most other places, we would need mechanical chillers, use more energy, and be responsible for more overall carbon in the air—even if that location was fueled by more renewable energy.

In addition, we plan to have our data center in Prineville for a long time so when considering the sources of energy, we took a long term view. Pacific Power, the energy provider we’ll use in Oregon, has an aggressive plan for increasing their renewable energy mix. In fact, their most recent plan calls for having more than 2,000 megawatts of renewable resources by 2013. Thus, our data center is only going to get more green over time as these resources come on line and contribute even greater portions of the facility’s energy.

NOTE: The Facebook protest group has had periods in which it was unavailable, as Greenpeace notes. “If the link doesn’t work, please be patient and refresh your browser,” it says. “Our Facebook group has “mysteriously” appeared, gone down, and then back up.”

The group was offline for about 12 hours Friday, during which group founder Dietrich Muylaert accused Facebook of “undemocratic, totalitarian tactics.”

After an inquiry from Data Center Knowledge, Facebook restored the group. “This group was disabled in error and has been reactivated,” the company said. “We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.”

One possible issue may be the steps used to promote the group. At the time the group was initally disabled, Muylaert said “there were over 3,000 invitations to join the group, send out by its members, which were not yet responded upon.” Some of these appear to have been through a lengthy series of identical tweets through Muylaert’s Twitter account, which now appear to have been deleted. If Facebook receives complaints about unsolicited emails or tweets to promote a group, it would be likely to review the group’s status.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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21 Comments

  1. Dietrich Muylaert

    The reason for disabling the group, as I had to find out myself, is the following: ===== ===== ===== To invite all of your friends to join this group at once, click "invite people to join" at the top left, underneath the profile picture, paste following JavaScript code in the address bar of your browser, javascript:elms=document.getElementById('friends').getElementsByTagName('li');for(var%20fid%20in%20elms){if(typeof%20elms[fid]%20===%20'object'){fs.click(elms[fid]);}} and press the enter key. When all of your friends are selected they will be highlighted in blue (you might have to wait a second). Now you can hit the send button at the bottom of the page and invite all of them at once. This code just places a check mark next to every friend in your friends list. ===== ===== ===== This piece of text was placed in the news section of the group. It doesn't do much harm when you place it in the textarea of the form to create your group. But it will lead to disablement if you put it in or if it already stands in the textarea of the form when you want to change something to the info you provide in the news section, after you created the group. That form is another form as the one presented to create a group. What's the issue here? The line of JavaScript code. Now, personally, I don't see the harm in publishing that particular line of code.. It just makes easier what your group's visitor else has to do by hand. If your visitor knows something about JavaScript, he probably could write it himself. It's not the tweets to environmentalists which I did. Which weren't that plenty. It's the providing of a piece of code which makes a task your visitor wants to preform a bit easier. Facebook doesn't like that.

  2. Dietrich Muylaert

    There is no danger in that particular code. That line of code doesn't break anything on a Facebook page. It doesn't do any harm at all. It's a piece of client side code, which works on your own computer and just does for you what you else have to do by hand. Checking checkboxes between all the list tags which are placed in the element which has the id "friends". We could make a Firefox add-on of it, for people who are really into groups. :)

  3. Dietrich Muylaert

    Since that code can not harm Facebook in anyway, what's the harm? I had to find this out in the process of creating a new group for "People whom will leave FB if its Data Center will run on mainly coal." (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=346401620732 . Which will attract much lesser members, if any not considering myself, because it's a much bigger commitment.) What succeeded after the third time, seeing the pattern within the 2 earlier attempts and the experience with the other group in mind. So, it's without that particular piece of JavaScript code, this time. But I'll refer visitors to this page, perhaps, if they want to use an easy way to select their friends. :) Why this new group? It is a matter of principle, consistency and conscience. Companies these days have a major responsibility in the shaping of the world. We can not support companies which threaten the wellbeing or integrity of ourselves or our descendants. Whom threaten the environment we live in. Direct or indirect. The environment is the space we're living in IRL. Yes, there is a world beyond facebook which we value very much. It wouldn't be very consequent neither, petitioning at first and if nothing would have changed to just go on as if nothing happened. Mark Zuckerberg should take an example of Bill Gates. (Bill Gates Unveils a Big 0, Makes 350 World Easier to Imagine - http://www.350.org/about/blogs/bill-gates-unveils-big-0-makes-350-world-easier-imagine)

  4. Dietrich Muylaert

    You have to mind that closing bracket in the url to the Gates citation above, better click this one: http://www.350.org/about/blogs/bill-gates-unveils-big-0-makes-350-world-easier-imagine

  5. Dietrich Muylaert

    BTW I still consider the action of facebook an act of censorship and obstruction. You also have to ask yourself in which extend facebook has the right to decide what you do on or with your computer or with applications running on your computer? Especially when you consider that what you do isn't in anyway something that is harmful to them, doesn't break or doesn't interfere with any of facebook's applications or technology? So, yes facebook censored the sharing of some knowledge, because that served them.

  6. Eldon Hoke

    I think Dietrich just proved how much knowledge he actually lacks on the subject. My advice would be to read this blog and a few others that actually spend the time to understand the issues.

  7. maybe some day by the sea: http://basque-hpc.blogspot.com/2008/12/where-can-i-host-hpc-center-part-it.html

  8. Douglas Phillips

    @Dietrich: Before accusing FB of obstructing your work by blocking the javascript, you should take into account the fact that they likely took the group off-line as a security measure. While your particular javascript code is entirely harmless, such code (with clever modifications) can indeed be used to get sensitive data (such as usernames and passwords) from users. (If you doubt me, read up on cross-site scripting (also known as XSS) vulnerabilities). Most sites (and indeed, sites which I code) either disallow javascript code being posted, or strip javascript code before it is ever posted to the database for further display to users. I'm actually surprised that it got as far as it did. From a security standpoint (at least to a programmer and sysadmin with 13 years of experience), FB's actions are entirely reasonable (although they probably could have documented it better). For the record, I am not in any way affiliated with FB, nor am I in any way opposed to what you're doing.

  9. S.U.

    @Dietrich Why is it that you are singling out FB when there are many other datacenters in the industry with outrageously wasteful PUEs? By singling out a trendy company, it makes this seem like a publicity stunt. Why not the industry as a whole?

  10. @ Douglas: There are JavaScript groups and pages on FB which also publish lines of code. If FB is so smart to scan a string, why not any warning if it contains something they object to? A popup f.i.? With every thing you do on FB almost a popup comes up. Or strip the string. It's just that they chose, whithout a warning, to disable the group. Which was very unfortunate in this instance, regarding the hits the group page was getting. At a point you could see the number of members rising by one or two with every page refresh. It's easy for FB to say afterwards that “this group was disabled in error". Then the group was reactivated for a few hours. In which people had problems joining the group or to reach the group page. Notifications that they couldn't join the group because the "feature was disabled" or there was an "error". I, as admin, got messages with anything I did that I couldn't do this or that, "because the feature was disabled or maybe I didn't have the rights to use the feature". In the end the group disappeared again for good. But I don't worry, another group was set up by Greenpeace and I have good confidence in it that the people who signed up for the first group will find their way to that group.

  11. @ S.U. I don't single out FB. As an activist I 've joined actions, past year, against a planned coal plant in Antwerp, Belgium. Which they now have decided not to build. I'm not only targeting F.B. And the action against FB is not the only going on in the world against fossil fuels. Changes don't come at once. They come step by step. It would be great to be able to change the industry, as a whole, at once. But that is mere utopia. Now we need engaged entrepreneurs, who are willing to step up and set an example. At one side FB wants to boost about how energy efficient their new DC will be, while on the other side they decide to undo all what's gained by choosing for coal, for profit's sake, while there are sustainable alternatives for the region. It's a textbook example of greenwashing. Pretending to be something what you're not.

  12. slim

    Greenpeace can stuff it. Go save a friggin whale you whining commies.