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Facebook and Greenpeace make peace on data centers

The collaboration will encourage cleaner energy on the grid and data center efficiency through the Facebook-founded Open Compute initiative.

Facebook's most recently built data center in Oregon uses mist cooling rather than traditional chillers to save energy.
Facebook's most recently built data center in Oregon uses mist cooling rather than traditional chillers to save energy.
Screen capture Martin LaMonica/CNET

After hammering Facebook to shift away from coal, Greenpeace can now claim an ally in the social network.

The two today announced a collaboration to promote renewable energy on the grid and improve energy efficiency in data centers.

In a joint statement (PDF), Facebook agreed to create a data center policy that "states a preference for access to clean and renewable energy supply," continue research on data center efficiency, and urge utilities to increase the amount of clean energy used for Facebook's operations.

Greenpeace will actively support the Facebook-founded Open Compute Project to share energy-efficient data center designs. It will also encourage utilities to give consumers more data on their energy usage, including an Opower-created program that uses Facebook to promote individual energy efficiency and awareness.

"We will be working with Greenpeace to move everyone closer to a world powered by clean and renewable energy, and to use the Facebook platform to engage people on energy and environmental issues," Facebook said on its Green page.

Last year, Greenpeace launched an "Unfriend Coal" campaign on Facebook to pressure the company to use cleaner sources of power for its data centers. Greenpeace pushes all technology providers, including those that operate giant data centers, to lobby for policies that encourage a cleaner energy system.

Facebook's position at the time was that its primary role was to improve energy efficiency at its own operations. In April this year, however, it launched the Open Compute initiative where it published the designs for its Prineville, Ore., data center, which it says is one of the most energy efficient in the industry. By sharing hardware specifications through Open Compute in a open-source style organization, Facebook hopes to improve the state of the art in efficiency for cloud providers overall.

By agreeing to promote renewable energy with utilities, Facebook is taking another step toward encouraging a cleaner grid, according to Greenpeace. "Greenpeace and Facebook will now work together to encourage major energy producers to move away from coal and instead invest in renewable energy. This move sets an example for the industry to follow," Tzeporah Berman, co-director of Greenpeace's International Climate and Energy program, said in a statement.

Although data center practices change slowly, cloud companies in general have an interest in lowering their energy-related expenses at data centers, which are significant. Some companies, including Facebook, Apple, and Google, have installed solar or wind power systems to power a portion of their data center.