Facebook Hires Ex-Google Green Czar

by | Dec 23, 2011

Google’s former green czar, Bill Weihl, will join Facebook in late January, according to the website Fresh Dialogues.

The website said Weihl will have a sustainability role at the social media company, with a focus on clean energy and energy efficiency, though details on his exact responsibilities and job title have yet to be released.

Wiehl stepped down from his role at Google on November 8, just days after the news of his impending departure was first reported. He was involved in almost all green initiatives at Google, including research, investments in green technologies, and energy reduction efforts.

The companies have both come under attack for their energy use. Google had been repeatedly criticized for refusing to reveal its carbon footprint, until this September, when it announced its energy consumption and carbon dioxide output for 2010.

Similarly, Greenpeace launched a campaign against Facebook for its plans to buy power from PacifiCorp, a utility that the non-profit said generated most of its electricity from coal. Greenpeace pushed Facebook to “unfriend coal” for nearly two years, until last week, when the company and activist group jointly announced that Facebook plans to run on “clean, renewable energy.”

A report by independent analyst Verdantix this autumn found that Facebook, along with Amazon and Netflix, failed to adequately disclose its carbon footprint. In the analysis, Google was one of only 14 firms that disclosed GHG emissions from its data centers on a global basis.

But while Amazon was slammed by the Carbon Disclosure Project for what the organization called a lack of transparency, Facebook as a private company wasn’t included in the CDP report.  That could change next year, with Facebook expected to make its stock market debut in the second quarter of 2012.

The company has made a number of sustainability announcements in the past few months. In April it launched the Open Compute Project, which aims to increase efficiencies and reduce the environmental impacts of data centers.

Intel, Dell, Mozilla, Rackspace and Netflix have all joined the project, though Google was notably absent. The search giant – now a direct Facebook competitor, after the launch of the Google+ social networking site – has long been secretive about its data center designs, and treats them as crucial intellectual property. By combining forces with companies like Intel and Dell, Facebook may be hoping to diminish Google’s hardware advantages.

Facebook is also planning to create both electricity and hot water with a solar energy system at its new Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. It has unveiled a green data center that it says uses 38 percent less energy to do the same work as its existing facilities, while costing 24 percent less. And  Facebook engineers developed a programming language, HipHop for PHP, which halves the number of servers required to do a given amount of work.

Weihl held the green energy czar title at Google from February 2006 to November 2011. Before that he worked as an independent consultant, and at Akamai Technologies, Compaq and Digital Equipment Corp. He has a PhD in computer science from MIT, where he was a professor for ten years.

Since 1997, Weihl has also been vice-president and co-chair of the board of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative.

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