Data Centre Sustainability: Are We Making Progress? (Guest Blog from CyrusOne)
Statista recently forecasted that revenue in the data centre market is set to reach over £280bn in 2023, proving this demand isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
There is ongoing discussion on whether the sector can meet this demand, while satisfying the aggressive and necessary sustainability targets set by the industry. As part of this, the sustainability practices implemented by data centres are often analysed and critiqued, making it difficult to grasp what progress has actually been made, as well as have a clear picture of what needs to be achieved.
The Interdependent Nature of Data Centres
Before we explore the progress being made within the data centre industry as it relates to its sustainable practices and innovation, it’s important that the true value of data centres and where they sit within society is understood. To those in the industry, the critical nature of data centres to how the world operates is obvious, with market researchers and energy consultants calling data centres the critical enablers of modern society.
Data centres enable the functioning of our modern societies from online shopping, entertainment and remote working, to more critical services across healthcare, finance and education. They are also important enablers of efficiency across multiple sectors; as an example, if banks decide to reduce their carbon footprint by outsourcing their servers, this would be supported by data centres. Whilst the data centres emissions will go up slightly, this migration from on-premises to outsourcing brings a 6 fold efficiency, and viewing the increase in data centre emissions in isolation presents an inflated, potentially inaccurate view of what is actually happening.
With this, when we discuss the sustainability of data centres it’s important to remember that they do not act in a vacuum and that they are, in fact, an interdependent necessity within our society - and ultimately, a planetary ally.
What Has Been Achieved
Whilst there’s still more to be done, progress has been made in the reporting and transparency of sustainability measurement, with signatories of the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact recently launching an Audit Framework to assess and verify the compliance of data centre operators with the Pact’s Self-Regulatory Initiative (SRI). Established certifications such as BREEAM, CUE and PUE, also continue to play an important role in measuring sustainable built environments, energy and carbon usage effectiveness respectively.
It’s likely that further legislation and a standardisation of auditable reporting will be introduced this year, which will drive more transparency in the market. 24/7 carbon-matching will become a requirement with companies having to track their power usage on an hourly basis and match their usage to a carbon free energy source. This will also result in a move away from carbon offsetting and toward PPAs, directly with green energy generators.
Beyond measurement, there has been notable progress in innovative sustainability practices within data centres - from zero water consumption cooling, to using sustainable design and construction materials and the increasing use of renewable energy.
While there is much to be done within every sector to achieve and exceed the necessary sustainability targets, it’s important that we look at the changes we can make at a societal level in order to create a sustainable culture - and that includes data centres. This was the driving force behind the planning for our brand new data centre facility in London, which will lead with sustainability, community and biodiversity at its core. Our sixth location in the UK and most ambitious sustainability effort yet, the development will use 100% renewable electricity, with an onsite solar PV system and full power secured from SSEN directly from the Iver Grid Supply Point.
But beyond the technical specifications, we sought to understand how the development would affect the local community and gain insight into specific issues they faced with a view to how we could help. Questions covered how we would maintain air quality and minimise pollution to the potential impact on traffic and green spaces in the local area. We’re addressing all of these within our development, through extensive landscaping plans including dedicated green areas accessible to the public and a range of electric vehicle charging points.
While the bigger conversations and strategies are absolutely needed, it’s important to look at things from a “grassroots” level too and pay attention to the benefits at a local level. By engaging with local businesses, suppliers, recruits and broader members of the community, we can gain a deep understanding of how we can make a difference with our London VI development and ensure we are giving back, both to the environment and the people who live there. Only then will the inaccurate perceptions of our sector truly start to shift.
It’s true to say that the question of progress within data centre sustainability is nuanced and complex; but it’s also clear to see that significant strides have been made over recent years. Understanding this nuance is critical to accelerating advancements within the sector, allowing us to not only make important, larger commitments but also addressing immediate needs of society and culture today. This is what will make data centres truly sustainable.
Aashna Puri, Senior Manager, Strategy & Sustainability at CyrusOne
Craig is Associate Director for Climate, Environment and Sustainability and leads on our work in these areas ranging from climate change, ESG disclosures and due diligence, through to circular economy, business and human rights, conflict minerals and post-Brexit regulation.
Prior to joining techUK he worked in public affairs and policy has an avid interest in new and emerging technologies. Craig has a degree in Ancient History from King’s College London and spends his time watching Watford FC and holding out hope for Half Life 3.
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Adam joined techUK in September 2021 working in the Climate, Environment & Sustainability Team.
Adam has a Masters in Climate Change: Science, Environment and Policy from King's College London, as well as a Batchelor's degree in Wildlife Conservation from the University of Kent.
The Environment Programme encompasses many different areas of the tech market and policy sphere. Climate change is the highest policy priority for the programme, with ethical resourcing, supply chain due diligence, build environment digitalisation and economic circularity becoming increasingly prominent in the programmes activities.
Before working at techUK Adam worked in the NHS. His interest in nature and conservation led him to going on several conservation projects abroad including Peru and Fiji, working with caiman and tropical fish. When Adam is not saving the planet, he is either playing music, at the gym or playing cricket in the summer.
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Lucas Banach is Programme Assistant at techUK, he works on a range of programmes including Data Centres; Climate, Environment & Sustainability; Market Access and Smart Infrastructure and Systems.
Before that Lucas who joined in 2008, held various roles in our organisation, which included his role as Office Executive, Groups and Concept Viability Administrator, and most recently he worked as Programme Executive for Public Sector. He has a postgraduate degree in International Relations from the Andrzej Frycz-Modrzewski Cracow University.
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Luisa C. Cardani
Luisa C. Cardani is the Head of the Data Centres Programme at techUK, aiming to provide a collective voice for UK operators and working with government to improve business environment for the data centres sector.
She has held a number of position in government, including leading on cross-cutting data provisions in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and in high priority cross-departmental projects when working in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
She holds an M.Sc. from University College London's Department of Political Sciences.
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