Facebook achieved an important environmental goal early on: The social media company is now buying enough renewable energy to run all of its activities worldwide, it announced this week. Facebook joins a handful of tech companies with ambitious green energy goals including Microsoft, Apple and Alphabet, the parent company of Google.
In the past few years, Facebook has significantly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2017, the CO2 emissions from the company’s operations have fallen by 94% and, according to the sustainability report, have exceeded the targets of reducing emissions by three quarters.
Emissions were mainly reduced by concentrating on the huge data centers that supply the servers with Facebook services and the office locations with electricity.
“For us, data centers are the main source of electricity consumption and the primary footprint that we have been thinking about,” said Urvi Parekh, director of renewable energy for the company. Reducing emissions meant “making our data centers as efficient as possible and reducing electricity consumption” and buying massive amounts of wind and solar power to run those centers.
Last year, when most employees started working remotely, Facebook said it bought enough clean energy to cover the amount used by employees who work at home.
The company is still emitting carbon from its construction activity and natural gas consumption in some locations where it has no other energy options, Parekh said. Last year that was equivalent to 38,000 tons of carbon dioxide (or roughly the same amount of carbon as is emitted by 8,900 cars that drive for a year).
Facebook offsets those emissions by investing in reforestation and other carbon removal projects, Parekh said.
In the past few years, Facebook has become one of the largest clean energy buyers in the world. According to the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, Facebook was the largest corporate buyer of clean energy in 2018 and 2019, though it dropped to fifth place in 2020.
Facebook has also set a new goal of achieving net zero emissions across the entire supply chain by 2030. This means that investment in green projects must be increased to offset the emissions caused by its suppliers, users and employees. Facebook says it will also work to directly reduce those emissions, which is more difficult to achieve.
“It will be very difficult to identify all the places along our value chain where we can reduce emissions,” said Parekh. “A big source of discussion is transportation … you also think about employee commuting, business travel by airlines, and looking at next-generation technology,” she said.
Renewable energies have become much cheaper in a short period of time, as companies’ exploding interest in renewable energies has lowered the cost of large wind and solar parks. In many parts of the US, it is now cheaper to build a new wind farm than to keep an existing coal-fired power plant running.
Facebook is one of several tech companies to announce ambitious clean energy targets. Microsoft announced last year that it would delete its entire carbon footprint since its inception. Google has been offsetting its emissions since 2017 and plans to conduct all renewable energy activities by 2030. Amazon has announced that it will achieve “net zero” in 20 years.