Facebook's datacentre carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions rise

Despite its focus on energy efficiency and use of renewable energy resources, Facebook’s datacentre carbon footprint increased 52% in 2012

Despite its focus on energy efficiency, smart datacentre design, and use of renewable energy resources, Facebook’s datacentre carbon footprint increased 52% in 2012, while its greenhouse gas emissions increased by about 34%, compared with the previous year.

The internet giant’s greenhouse gas emissions for 2012 from its datacentre operations, datacentre constructions, hardware transportation, office space and employee travel accounted for 384,000 metric tonnes of CO2e, compared with 285,000 metric tonnes of CO2e in 2011.

The carbon footprint of its datacentres last year also increased by more than half (52%) to 298,000 metric tonnes of CO2e in 2012.

Facebook's report on its 2012 carbon footprint and energy use revealed that the social networking company’s total energy use also increased in 2012, up by 32% from 532m KwH in 2011 to 704m KwH in 2012. Its datacentres alone accounted for 678m KwH of energy use in 2012.

More than one billion people around the world use Facebook. “As the number of people using Facebook continues to grow, so does our infrastructure. Our challenge is to figure out how to bring Facebook to everyone while limiting our impact on the natural environment as much as possible,” the company said in its 2012 energy use report.

One person’s Facebook use for all of 2012 had the same carbon impact as about three bananas, or a few glasses of wine, or a latte, it explained. 

The company pledged that, over time, its emissions growth will slow down as its energy mix gets cleaner and its carbon intensity decreases, but in the near term “our energy use and overall greenhouse gas emissions continue to tick up”.

Facebook energy mix in 2012: Use of coal rises while use of clean energy falls

In its report, Facebook also shared details of the energy resources used to power its datacentre facilities and IT operations.

In 2012, its energy mix comprised 19% clean and renewable, 34% coal, 15% natural gas, 22% nuclear, and 10% uncategorised (power bought on the spot market).

This compared with 23% clean and renewable, 27% coal, 17% natural gas, 13% nuclear and 20% uncategorised power sources in 2011.

“The percentage of clean and renewable energy in our mix declined from 2011, as we expected it would in the near term,” according to the report.

But the social media giant is confident that as its latest Arctic datacentre in Lulea, Sweden – powered entirely by clean hydroelectric power – starts serving more traffic, the percentage of clean energy powering its datacentre operations will rise. The carbon footprint of its Swedish datacentre, which went live in June, was zero.

“We continue to strive for 25% of our energy coming from clean and renewable sources by 2015 and are working hard to achieve this goal,” it said.

Facebook has three datacentres in the US – Prineville, Forest City and Altoona – and one European datacentre in Lulea, Sweden. The company is also building a cold storage datacentre facility in Prineville to archive users’ old photographs. The facility is likely to be ready by the end of autumn 2013.

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