Facebook Releases Carbon Footprint, Complement to NRDC/Opower Social Energy App

Today, Facebook released a never-before publicly disclosed figure: its carbon footprint. Amounting to 285,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2011, the analysis incorporates emissions from its massive datacenters, buildings in 25-plus global locations, and 950 million and growing users. The numbers show the social networking giant’s integral role in our global energy system; at the same time, the release of the information, which took over five months to gather and get third-party verified, shows a strong internal focus on the energy and carbon intensity of its operations, and one that peer businesses can emulate as energy efficiency becomes increasingly important to their bottom line.

Beyond, it is one more step the company is taking to engage its nearly one billion users on their own energy consumption, and a complement to its social energy application, a collaborative effort between NRDC, Facebook, and Opower.

The carbon footprint itself incorporates data from all areas of Facebook’s operations. While the overwhelming majority of the company’s emissions in 2011 came from its datacenters—207,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent—the analysis also incorporates emissions that come from corporate air travel, employee commuting, data center construction, and server transportation. Active Facebookers themselves were each responsible in 2011 for the equivalent carbon emissions of one medium latte.

Marcy Scott Lynn of Facebook Sustainability explains that tracking and benchmarking this data has always been part of Facebook’s operations. “It’s important as a business to understand where emissions come from,” says Lynn. Publicly releasing that information reflects Facebook’s philosophy about operating with transparency and openness. “We’re adding another datapoint to collective knowledge about what’s happening in our industry related to environmental impact,” says Lynn.

By sharing its own carbon emissions data, the company hopes to provide more insight into where the tech industry can identify opportunities to limit emissions despite rapid growth. Facebook’s own initiatives include its Open Compute Project, targeting energy efficiency in datacenters, and siting them in places like Oregon and Sweden where cooler climates limit the need for air conditioning.

While maximizing energy productivity in its own buildings is an imperative in minimizing global carbon emissions, “the impact of what 900 million people on Facebook can do is far and above what we can do,” says Lynn. One way the company is doing that is through its NRDC and Opower partnership.

Launched in April, our energy application adds a social dimension to energy use, encouraging people to think about their home's energy consumption for longer than the average six minutes per year. As my colleague Brandi Colander wrote when the app was launched, users are able to:

  • Compare Energy Use to Similar Homes:  People can benchmark their home energy use against a national database of millions of homes. All benchmarking is done on an aggregate level, ensuring complete data privacy.
  • Compare Energy Use Among Friends:  People can invite friends to compare their energy use against their own, show how energy efficient they are, and share tips on how to improve.
  • Publish Conversations About Energy to the Facebook Newsfeed: People can to share information about their energy use, rank, group participation, and tips they've completed.
  • Group Development – Cooperation and Competition:  Communities of people can form teams to help each other achieve collective goals, as well as compete against other groups. Teams will be rewarded and incentivized by their utility or other network partners.
  • Automatically Import Energy Data:  Customers of participating utilities can import their energy data into the application automatically. Customers from utilities that are not participating can input their energy usage into the app manually. Right now more than 20 million households can automatically sync their energy data from their utility.

As an active (and enthusiastic) user, I eagerly await the beginning of each month when I can enter new energy use data and see if the powerstrip I installed helped me move up the leaderboard. Despite my shoebox-sized two bedroom New York City apartment beginning at high levels of efficiency, the unspoken competition between me and my colleague Dylan (I’ll beat you one of these days) has made me even more conscious, leading my roommate and me to sign up for an air conditioner demand response program, and install LED lights.

A way to “unlock the [Facebook] platform on behalf of environment,” says Lynn, interested users can sign up here: http://www.social.opower.com/