Back in late 2021, multi-billion dollar technology company Facebook created headlines when it announced that it was changing its name to Meta. This was because the company has now grown far beyond the original social networking site. Meta is parent company to several communication platforms including WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram and Facebook itself.

Facebook is the biggest social media platform in the world, with more than 2.5 billion active users.  Overall, just under one quarter of the world’s population is estimated to visit the site each day. The number of active users of one or more of Meta’s platforms is estimated to be well over three billion.

This much traffic means that Meta is also a massive user of data centres. It currently has 18 data centres around the world, and more planned. To put this in context, Microsoft—a leading cloud services provider—has just 16 data centres.  Meta’s approach to data centres and energy management is therefore likely to be influential in the move to net zero carbon. Here’s what we know.

Meta’s approach to data centres focuses on their impact on local communities

Meta believes that it is important to ‘make a positive impact’ through its data centres. The first aspect of this is economic. Building and running data centres puts money into local economies. Meta estimates that it has put more than $16 billion into host communities since 2010, and that its construction work has provided around 200,000 jobs.

The company also invests in local communities

Meta also invests in local projects, and supports volunteering. It claims to have contributed more than $20 million in direct funding to data centre host communities in the US, as well as significant volunteer time. It also has several initiatives designed to support communities and individuals. For example, Hardhat in Hand is an eight-week training programme for people new to the construction industry, linked to the construction jobs created by building data centres.

Local communities in the US seem positive about Meta’s data centres

Evidence from social media suggests that communities local to data centres are positive about Meta’s arrival in their area. For example, the town of Henrico, Virginia, was effusive about the company in a tweet in December 2021highlighting some of Meta’s community projects, and its impact on the area. The company has created some 200 operational jobs in its data centre there, and has also supported more than 1500 construction jobs during the building process.

The company takes sustainability of data centres seriously

The third ‘arm’ of making a positive impact is sustainability. The headline figures boast that Meta’s data centres have achieved net zero carbon emissions, and that the company builds and operates some of the most sustainable data centres in the world. Meta claims that its data centres are fully supported by renewable energy, and use 32% less energy than industry standard. They are also 80% more water-efficient than industry standards.

These claims are supported by investment into renewable and other technology

Alongside its data centres, Meta is also investing in renewable and other sustainability technology. Its 18 data centres are supported by 53 solar projects, 15 wind projects, and one heat recovery project, as well as nine water restoration projects. Its data centres are designed to produce less waste, and incorporate greener products. They have all achieved Gold certification from LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the most widely used green building rating system in the world.

Meta uses various approaches to improve data centre efficiency

Meta claims to be running hyperefficient data centres by using a range of new technology. For example, it has built and open-sourced a product called MyRocks, that reduces the amount of storage needed on servers, therefore increasing capacity. It has also developed a technology to balance loads, and ensure that energy is not wasted from using servers at low capacity.

However, not all potential host communities are convinced

Henrico, Virginia, may be pleased at having a Meta data centre on its doorstep, but other communities are more sceptical. Despite initial local government approval, the Dutch senate has passed a motion calling on the government in the Netherlands not to sell land to Meta to build a data centre there. Concerns centre around the energy demands of any data centre—and politicians are clearly not fully convinced by Meta’s environmental credentials. Only time will tell whether they are right.

 

 

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