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How much CO2 do you produce using Facebook? Less than in 2016, report shows

Facebook hit a number of major climate-related targets in 2020, according to its annual sustainability report.

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Facebook is making strides to improve its environmental impact.

Katie Collins/CNET

If you've ever wondered what impact your use of Facebook services has on the environment, now you can know for sure. Every one of Facebook's 2.85 million users produces 12 grams of carbon dioxide by using the company's services every year. That's 25 times better than in 2016, when each user produced a little less than 300 grams of CO2 annually. 

In large part, what the company calls a "stunning" improvement is due to the big shift it's made to using clean energy, explained CTO Mike Schroepfer in a blog post published Monday alongside its second annual sustainability report.

In April, just ahead of Earth Day, the company announced it had hit its renewable energy goal of running all its operations on 100% renewable energy, as well as reaching "net zero" emissions by removing the same amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as it emits. This is due to a 94% reduction in emissions from 2017 levels, according to the report, which documented how Facebook had surpassed its goal of reducing 2017 emission levels by 75%.

Just like the rest of the world, most Facebook employees have been working from home for the past year -- something that was taken into account as the company measured its environmental impact for 2020. The company said it had supported the electricity use of all its employees while they worked from home with renewable energy throughout the year.

The company is also striving to be "a good water steward," said Facebook's head of sustainability, Edward Palmieri, in a briefing ahead of the report's publication. As such, in 2020 it restored more than 1.5 times its total water consumption in the watersheds where it operates.

Facebook's annual sustainability report is an opportunity for the company to show how it's contributing not only to the climate goals it sets in-house, but global targets set at high-level summits, as well as how it's using its platform to help raise the profile of climate science. Along with Apple, Facebook is one of a number of Silicon Valley tech giants stepping up to talk publicly about its efforts following years of environmental groups putting pressure on big companies to tackle the climate crisis.

Facebook's next goal is to reach net zero emissions across the entirety of its business by 2030, which means looking beyond its own facilities and activities and including its whole supply chain. The company is currently looking to identify opportunities to reduce its carbon emissions further and will set a reduction target in the coming months, said Palmieri.

One critical area in which Palmieri said Facebook is still looking to actively improve its sustainability is in extending the life of the equipment and hardware it uses, as well as how it constructs buildings. Virtual meetings and engagements also bring opportunities to lower emissions by cutting down on travel, he added.

"Driving down some of those carbon intensive activities through efficiency and being really thoughtful and smart about what we do, what we purchase and when we travel, I think will be key portions of our reduction strategy in the short term, as we look at how to drive on decarbonization into our entire value chain," he said.

Beyond its sustainability initiatives, the social network is fighting an ongoing battle to contain the spread of misinformation on a number of topics, including climate change denial. This past year, Facebook launched the Climate Science Information Center, a resource sharing top climate science, which the company says has been visited by more than 60 million people worldwide.