What exactly does Greenpeace want from the data center industry? The answer seems to be more. Always more.
That's reflected in the environmental group's strange response to Facebook's opening of a new data center in Lulea, Sweden, which is powered entirely by renewable hydro-electric power.
In a statement, Greenpeace first congratulated Facebook for using renewable energy, a goal that had been the focus of a two-year Greenpeace social media campaign calling on the social network to "unfriend dirty coal." But then, curiously, Greenpeace said it was "disappointed" that Facebook used a utility provider that invests in non-renewable energy for other customers.
"Greenpeace welcomes the news that Facebook's first coal-free data center in Sweden has begun operations, an important sign that Facebook is making progress on its commitment to unfriend coal," said Greenpeace Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook. "Facebook's selection of Lulea for its third data center demonstrates the impact of the siting policy it adopted that prioritizes access to clean sources of electricity for its data centers, having listened to its users who asked the social network to be powered with clean energy instead of coal.
"However, Greenpeace is disappointed to learn that given the choice of energy providers for Lulea, Facebook has not immediately opted for a 100% renewable energy provider, instead choosing the giant utility Vattenfall, which still invests primarily in non-renewable energy," said Cook.
Translation: It's not enough that Facebook is using 100 percent renewable energy. To satisfy Greenpeace, data centers must buy only from a "100% renewable energy provider."
Cook disagrees with the notion that Greenpeace is continuing to criticize Facebook (although we're not alone in that interpretation).
"I think it's a stretch to say that we are 'criticizing Facebook' here," Cook wrote in an email exchange with DCK. "We seek to present an honest appraisal of every data center operator, and in this case our appraisal is to offer genuine praise of Facebook for being a leader based on its siting policy and decision to locate in Lulea."
Missing on the Nuances
This was followed by the "yes, but" transition that regularly appears in Greenpeace's press statements noting progress on data center sustainability by Apple or Facebook.
"With that said, there are nuances to everything," Cook writes. "Facebook has options for which utility would service its electricity demand for its Lulea data center, and have initially chosen Vattenfall ... who in the last 10 years has shifted from its hydro-electric base in Sweden to investing heavily in coal in other parts of Europe, particularly Central & Eastern Europe."
In arguing that Facebook has chosen its utility poorly, Cook pointed us to a bewildering chart in Swedish put together by Greenpeace Sweden. Google Translate couldn't make sense of it, so we'll take Greenpeace's word that Vattenfall fares worse than other providers.
The environmental group's call for greater transparency from the cloud computing sector has earned plaudits from many who yearn for more accountability on data center energy use. But Greenpeace sometimes seems incapable of catching folks doing things right. If Greenpeace genuinely sees data centers as potential partners rather than punching bags for publicity purposes, it would do well to find a way to win gracefully.