Facebook Kicks Off a Weak Green Offensive

Facebook has been repeatedly called out for not doing enough to promote renewable energy for its new data center, so what is the massive social network doing with this public relations dilemma? Launching its own Facebook page and joining groups to demonstrate its green cred, of course.

The social media site on Thursday made a point of calling attention to its Green on Facebook page that highlights its efforts to cut its own energy use, while also telling others how to do the same. At the same time, Facebook says it has joined the research group the Digital Energy Solutions Campaign, which looks at how information technology can be used to fight climate change (like our Green:Net annual event).

The announcements came after it ran afoul of Greenpeace, which has waged a campaign to convince Facebook to add in clean power to run its data centers. Facebook is building a data center in Princeville, Ore., that will get its electricity from mostly coal-fired power plants. Back in July, the company said it would double the size of the data center because it only had 350 million users when it began developing the server farm, but now its members have reached 500 million.

In response, Greenpeace sent a letter to Facebook a few months back and created a Facebook page even earlier this year to rally the public to pressure the social media company. Facebook did respond to Greenpeace, contending its selection of the Oregon site will reduce its power use.

So, the Green on Facebook page is supposed to be one of its offensive moves (or defensive, depending on your perspective) to show it does care about the environment. The page has been featuring mostly news articles about green business practices and public-funded programs, with a few zany posts about making costumes out of recycled fabric and eco-friendly makeup for Halloween. It also featured a story about Facebook’s own use of a technology to cool its servers at one of its data centers in Silicon Valley to cut electricity costs.

Aggregating green business news seems a rather tiny step for a company of Facebook’s stature. Plenty of its fellow tech giants in Silicon Valley are investing a whole lot more to conserve energy and reduce their carbon footprint. Google (s goog) is buying wind power, has created an energy-trading subsidiary and has invested in a variety of electric car and other greentech companies. The search engine company also buys carbon credits to offset its own energy use. Intel (s INTC), which runs chip factories around the world, also is big on buying green power and recently received recognition from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Facebook, for its part, has decided that joining advocacy groups is a good way to go. Its membership in Digital Energy Solutions Campaign puts it in the company of other tech giants in the information technology business, including Intel, Verizon (s VZ), Microsoft (s MSFT), Nokia (s nok) and Hewlett-Packard (s hpq). The group advocates policies that promote energy efficiencies and creates business opportunities for the group’s members.

Facebook also recently joined Alliance to Save Energy, which does policy advocacy and consumer education. PG&E Corps.’s CEO Peter Darbee is listed on its website as the co-chair of the group, which also counts a host of public officials and executives of companies such as Lockheed Martin (s lmt), 3M (s mmm) and Whirlpool (s whr) as its directors. Facebook is donating $500,000 worth of advertising on its site to the alliance for promoting a website that gives energy efficiency tips to consumers.

Participating in public campaigns is certainly a good move by Facebook, but its growth and need for more data centers will continue to raise questions about its use of dirty power. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Facebook can do more and be a leader in using renewable energy and in the process making it cheaper for others as well.

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Photo courtesy of Ludovic Toinel