Facebook has reached a key environmental goal early: The social media company now purchases enough renewable energy to run all of its operations around the world, it announced this week. Facebook joins a handful of tech companies that have committed to ambitious green energy goals, including Microsoft, Apple and Alphabet, the parent company of Google.
Over the past few years, Facebook has cut its greenhouse gas emissions significantly. Since 2017, carbon emissions from the company's operations have fallen by 94%, surpassing its goals of reducing emissions by three-quarters, according to its sustainability report.
Emissions were cut primarily by focusing on the massive data centers that power the servers running Facebook's services, as well as its office locations.
"Data centers for us are the primary sources of electricity consumption and the primary footprint we've been thinking about," said Urvi Parekh, the company's director of renewable energy. Cutting down emissions meant "making our data centers as efficient as possible and reducing the amount of electricity that's consumed" as well as purchasing enormous amounts of wind and solar power to run those centers.
Last year, when most of its employees started working remotely, Facebook said it purchased enough clean energy to match the amount used by employees working at home.
The company still emits some carbon from its construction activity and natural-gas use in some locations where it has no other energy options, Parekh said. Last year, that was the equivalent of 38,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (or about as much carbon as is emitted from 8,900 cars driving for one year).
Facebook is offsetting those emissions by investing in reforestation and other carbon-removal projects, Parekh said.
Over the past few years, Facebook has turned into one of the largest clean-energy buyers in the world. Facebook was the biggest corporate buyer of clean energy in 2018 and 2019, according to the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, although it fell to fifth place in 2020.
Facebook also set a new goal, of reaching net-zero emissions across its entire supply chain by 2030. That means it will have to increase investments in environmentally beneficial projects to offset emissions generated by its suppliers, users and employees. Facebook says it will also work to directly reduce those emissions, which is a harder feat to pull off.
"It's going to be very challenging to try to identify along our value chain, all the places that we can reduce" emissions, Parekh said. "A big source of discussion is transportation ... you're also thinking about employees commuting, business travel through airlines, and looking at next-generation technology," she explained.
Renewable energy has become a lot less expensive in a short amount of time, as exploding corporate interest in renewable energy has driven down the costs of large-scale wind and solar farms. In many parts of the U.S. it's now cheaper to build a new wind farm than to keep an existing coal plant running.
Facebook is one of a number tech companies that have announced ambitious clean-energy goals. Microsoft last year said it would erase its entire carbon footprint since its founding through. Google has been offsetting its emissions since 2017, and plans to run all its operations on renewable energy by 2030. Amazon has said it plans to reach "net zero" in 20 years.