Building a Sustainable Internet

The digitization of daily life is creating an opportunity for a more energy efficient world.
By Mike Schroepfer
June 21, 2021

There aren’t many things in life that have gotten 25 times better since 2016. But one of the privileges of getting to work on cutting-edge technology is seeing these types of improvements happen in front of your eyes — and it’s especially inspiring when they involve massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  

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When Facebook first calculated the total carbon footprint of our data centers and offices across the globe in 2011, they amounted to a little less than 300 grams of CO2 equivalent per user each year, a number that held steady for years to come. 

That number always seemed impressive — comparable to the carbon footprint of a single latte, to power a family of essential communication services for an entire year. But what’s stunning is how much that number has dropped since 2016, as we revealed in our latest sustainability report today. From 300 grams of CO2 equivalent per user in 2016, Facebook’s total global operations consumed just 12 grams in 2020, a 25X improvement.

That’s thanks in large part to clean energy: our global operations are now 100% powered by renewable energy, after our teams around the world contracted for more than 6.1 GW of wind and solar projects. Paying for new clean energy production, in the places where our operations are consuming electricity, is the most direct way we can ensure the sustainability of our business. 

But making a business like Facebook sustainable requires a lot more than clean energy, and much of the heavy lifting involves running a more efficient operation in the first place. This required redesigning our data centers from the ground up with efficiency in mind. We designed new servers, for example, that run on a higher voltage so that electrical distribution systems don’t waste energy converting from one voltage to another. And we wrote new load-balancing software that ensures servers don’t waste power by running at low capacity during off-peak times. 

The result is that our data centers use 32% less electricity, and 80% less water, than the industry average. Even when they’re powered exclusively by clean electricity, that kind of efficiency matters. 

What’s more exciting is the opportunity to make an entire ecosystem more sustainable. We’re aiming to make our entire value chain net zero by the end of the decade, meaning everything from the cement used to build the foundations of a data center to factories used by contractors to assemble our consumer hardware. 

The environmental impact of all of this extends well beyond our business. Enabling people to lead rich digital lives has huge environmental implications, and substituting physical experiences for digital ones — skipping a drive to the mall with online shopping, or replacing a long flight with virtual meetings — represents a huge opportunity to reduce the energy intensity of modern life.  

Platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram have been enabling these kinds of digital connections for billions of people over the last decade, and as Oculus brings virtual and augmented reality to the mainstream, the kind of physical experiences that can be replicated digitally will keep expanding. Making our entire business and value chain net zero will only magnify the incredible environmental potential of our products.