Facebook more environment friendly than Google

Probir Bidhan

Probir Bidhan

In its recent deliberate disclosure of carbon footprint, Facebook’s annual carbon emission has been found to be much less than that of Google. Last week, Facebook, for the first time, revealed the carbon footprint of its operations and its more than 900 million users’ likes, photo albums and status updates.

Facebook’s data center in Prineville, Ore., relies primarily on coal-fired power from out of state

Facebook’s annual emissions were 285,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2011, compared with Google’s 1.5m tonnes in 2010, UK-based newspaper Guardian reports. The IT industry including laptops and PCs, data centres and computing networks, mobile phones, and telecommunications networks is one of the most rapidly growing emitters of greenhouse gas pollution and industrial consumers of electricity.

Without a significant increase in the use of renewable energy, the IT sector’s carbon footprint will continue to grow at a concerning rate, increasing the demand for electricity produced from coal and other forms of dirty energy. Given the projected growth of the IT sector, companies must effectively tackle their own operational emissions and those associated with their products by setting goals to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions on a well-defined timeline. However, researches suggest that there are opportunities to use these technologies to make the world economy more energy and carbon efficient.

Greenhouse gas reduction targets, footprint measurement, and disclosure are becoming increasingly important as companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft expand their operations to build data centres and increase electricity consumption, often increasing the demand for coal-fired power. The vast majority of Facebook’s emissions (72%) come from the company’s data centres in the US. The annual footprint for each user that’s active monthly is 269 grams, or around the equivalent footprint of a cup of coffee, the company calculated. Facebook also detailed the mix of energy sources that power its data centres. The majority, 27%, comes from coal power, with the rest coming from renewable sources (23%), gas (17%), nuclear (13%) and the remaining 20% uncategorised.

Welcoming Facebook’s move towards transparency, Gary Cook, Greenpeace International’s senior IT analyst, said: “Facebook has committed to being fully renewably powered, and today’s detailed disclosure and announcement of a clean energy target shows that the company means business and wants the world to follow its progress.” In October 2011, Facebook announced it would build a “green” data centre in Sweden, taking advantage of the country’s cold climate to keep servers cool – one of the most energy intensive elements of data centre operations. As computing has moved from local machines to “the cloud”, the real world environmental impact of hosting so much data has come under increasing scrutiny from green campaigners. Apple earlier this year disclosed the energy use of its data centre in North Carolina that powers its iCloud service.

Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change, illustrates growth in the IT sector’s electricity consumption largely due to the expansion of cloud-based computing. Cloud computing, which relies on centralised data storage infrastructure to deliver real-time information from the internet, is quickly becoming a predominant IT business model. All IT companies, but particularly major players in the cloud computing market, must set strong greenhouse gas reduction targets to ensure that, as their appetite for energy increases, so does their use of renewable sources.

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