Facebook: How Big Is Their Carbon Footprint?

24 08 2012

Some people may think that working out the carbon footprint of something is simple. However, there are lots of different variables to consider and there can be contributions from things which you wouldn’t have even thought to include in your calculations. The idea of this piece is to give you a sense of the scale that Facebook operates on, and therefore just how big their carbon footprint could be when you consider all the angles.

As of February 2012, Facebook had 845 million users spending an average of 20 minutes per visit on their site. Impressive numbers, thus a lot of carbon emissions. But, that doesn’t cover how many times a day that they visit their profile, and doesn’t separate the people like me, who spend all of 10 seconds on there, multiple times a day, from the people who can spend a whole afternoon playing Farmville.

If you want to consider each user’s footprint individually, we have to venture into the land of averages. Your average desktop computer, plus your monitor, will run at 214 watts, which is 0.214 kWH (kilowatts an hour). Once you’ve spent a long while with a calculator and pulled out most of your hair, you can use your maths skills (and Google) to work out that a 20 minute stint on Facebook releases approximately 0.1 lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere. Seems tiny? Wait a minute. If we multiply that number by the amount of users, that is 84,500,000 lbs of CO2 per visit.

That figure is only an estimate; different areas of the world use different forms of energy which are more efficient, and smaller devices obviously use less electricity, which will create less of the greenhouse gases.

The other thing that needs to be taken into account is how much electricity Facebook as a business uses, as that also contributes to their carbon footprint. Their offices in Palo Alto and the data centres which they use to house their servers all need energy in order to run, so that Facebook can be live at all times.

In January 2010, Facebook announced that it would be building a new data centre in Prineville, Oregon, which would be the new home to their servers. The building would be 147,000 square feet in size and the complex would need 78 megawatts of electricity to support its functions.

It goes without saying, that makes one heck of a carbon footprint.

Facebook has been persuaded by outside parties to make this new data centre more environmentally friendly, through the use of some renewable energy and energy efficient technologies. Unfortunately, they have only agreed to show a preference towards green energy, therefore, their company will probably be using ‘dirty’ energy sources for many years to come.

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