Recently Facebook launched their Green on Facebook page in an effort to green up their image after the big dirty coal data center debacle of earlier this year. According to their Facebook page, the Green on Facebook is

run by Facebook and will highlight our efforts to be a green and sustainable global citizen.

Image by Library of Congress (source: Flickr)

Together with 56.000 others, I became a fan op the page, and as many others I’m sure I’m pretty disappointed with the content of it. The wall is filled with links to various articles about different environmental topics, but very little information is available about Facebook’s own efforts to be sustainable and green. One article, supposedly from Facebook’s own engineers, discusses the topic of cooling strategies in data centers to increase energy efficiency. I could not stop but wonder if this post has anything to do with the new dirty coal scandal that Facebook is looking at today.

According to Jodie Van Horn, blogger for Greenpeace, Facebook has chosen a new data center location near Forest City, North Carolina that will – again – increase the demand for dirty energy. Greenpeace energy campaigner Gary Cook issued the following statement about this news:

Good corporate citizenship involves more than setting up a webpage dedicated to green issues, or becoming members of green clubs, just as energy efficiency is only the first step to managing your environmental footprint.

I think this statement pretty much sums it up. There are 600.000 Facebook users out there that want Facebook to go for 100 percent renewable energy in their data centers. There are examples of other giants like Yahoo! or Google that are working fast paced to adopt new renewable strategies. And then there is Facebook, putting up a Green on Facebook page to make up for all the carbon emissions produced by their data centers.

OK so that’s in short the deal with Facebook. Now remains the question of what we should do about it? Hard to say really. I think it’s important to understand that when it comes to the Internet (or any other thing really), dirty coal is still everywhere. According to the World energy resources and consumption page from Wikipedia 80 to 90 percent of worldwide energy is still derived from the combustion of fossil fuels with oil and coal being the primary sources. Still on the Wikipedia page I learned that coal consumption played a growing role in worldwide energy consumption in the past years and that the recent reduction of energy consumption in Europe and the U.S. is a direct result of the slowdown in economic activity and not so much of the efforts to transition to renewable energy sources.

So yes what Facebook is doing is not OK. Greening up their image and at the same time opening a new coal fueled data center. But let’s not kid ourselves, every time we surf the web we are pushing CO2 into the air. And in this story as in any other, we are the customers.

So what should we do about it? Get off the Internet as long as it’s not sustainable? That’s one option but maybe not the smartest one. A better idea might be to make more conscious choices, on and off the Internet, and to become aware that no company, organization or corporation will ever change their ways before we do. So in the end, or for starters, even if we don’t stop using Facebook (which we should eventually do, but hey we’re all human), a good step might be to sign up for Greenpeace’s Unfriend Coal campaign, as long as we understand that signing a petition now and again is not our way to carbon free heaven. It’ll take much, much more than that to get there.