Regardless of industry, environmental sustainability has become an undeniable business imperative. Global warming from carbon emissions, increasing sea levels and images of pollution are increasing public and shareholder pressure on corporations to take an active role in finding solutions and be accountable by setting goals and publicly documenting results.
In the IT industry, reducing electrical power generation from fossil fuels is priority #1, followed closely by water conservation and waste management.
For the average person, sustainability practices encompass recycling paper and plastic, conserving water, and embracing electric or hybrid vehicles and other eco-friendly habits. For the data center industry, which is responsible for 3% of global power consumption, sustainability takes on a more intense and innovative path. Based on the sheer size and scope of its business, data centers—like enterprises—have an obligation to implement and promote more sustainable choices and solutions.
Multi-tenant data centers are one of the largest per capita consumers of electric power. Based on current estimates, data centers in the U.S. alone will consume approximately 73 thousand megawatts in 2020.
Technological advancements are difficult to forecast, but several models predict that data center energy usage could surpass more than 10% of the global electricity supply by 2030.
Because of this, data centers are responding and are starting to become powerful voices for change, playing a central role in lessening the impact on the environment. They are making public commitments to minimize their environmental footprints, invest in renewable energy, and devise long-term plans to improve their sustainable efforts. They are becoming cognizant and strategic in how they run their facilities, from what and how they purchase their energy to how they cool the data center and everything in between.
Drivers of Change
Today, hyperscalers, large enterprises and government organizations are demanding that data center operators create a sustainable infrastructure to earn their business.
The most sustainable data centers are being built on commitments to innovative green and renewable strategies – including green power, water reclamation, zero water cooling systems, recycling and waste management, and more. They do not contain obsolete systems (such as inactive or underused servers), and take advantage of newer, more efficient technologies.
Taking cues from the hyperscalers, the most sustainable data centers recognize the need to lead with modular energy-efficient data center designs from the onset, adopt the latest in building technology, and influence the overall supply chain for the actual sourcing of materials for these innovative new data centers.
Economies of Scale
Benefits such as cost reduction, increased efficiency and knowledge that you are a better corporate citizen are obvious. What is not readily apparent is that by moving into a green multi-tenant data center, sustainability benefits are also passed on to the businesses and consumers who collectively benefit from the data center’s green IT infrastructure.
The economies of scale are extremely significant. Instead of a business (such as a large online retailer) attempting to deploy its own sustainable IT environment to power its service delivery, it can and should outsource to a data center operator that has a thoughtful and transparent sustainability strategy. The sustainability benefits are then passed along to all the consumers using its services and there could be hundreds of businesses like this in a single green data center.
In addition, when you deal with a true green data center that is serious about sustainability, the benefits go far beyond the requirement that your power is green. There are environmental and philanthropic benefits that can be linked with your outsourced IT infrastructure.
The best green data center operators are starting to formally document and report their progress in Environmental, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) report made public annually. For conventional enterprises and data centers that do not have measurable sustainability as part of their governance, it is coming.
Transparency is Fundamental to Accountability
QTS Realty Trust is one of a few data center companies holding themselves accountable as global citizens and committing to sustainability best practices that are impactful, achievable and will ultimately set the standard for the data center industry in the years to come. To support this, QTS published its second Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Initiatives report (accessed here) that documents the industry’s first formal commitment to provide 100% renewable energy across all of its data centers by 2025.
In 2019, QTS was ranked by GRESB as the #1 sustainable data center company among all data centers globally for its ESG initiatives. In 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency named QTS the winner of its first annual Green Power Leadership Award for QTS’ innovative Green Power Purchasing Model.
10 Tips for Choosing a Green Data Center
For those operating on-premises legacy data centers looking to move into a green data center, or for organizations already outsourcing to a less than a green provider, the following are 10 tips when evaluating green data center providers.
- Check the providers’ ESG ratings with organizations such as GRESB, the Carbon Disclosure Project, RE100 and Sustainalytics, and look for documented commitments to 100% renewable energy.
- Look for innovation in power such as the use of artificial intelligence to forecast power consumption, analyze data output, humidity, temperature, and other important statistics for improving efficiency, drive down costs, and reduce total power consumption.
- Check the EPA ranking to find the data centers leading in green power commitments here.
- Look for zero water cooling solutions powered by 100% renewable wind and solar power.
- Renewable energy should be impactful and cost-effective. Look for data centers with innovative green power procurement models that allow it purchases renewable energy on parity or below the price of conventionally produced power.
- Look for innovative, data-driven, service delivery models that tap AI, machine learning and predictive analytics that enable sustainability initiatives.
- Look for data center operators that work closely with utilities to develop tariffs and legislation that make it easier and more cost-effective for everyone to procure renewable energy.
- Look for providers with innovative philanthropic programs such as the “Grow with QTS” program that plants more than 20,000 trees in the Sierra Mountains every year on behalf of its customers, or its “HumanKind” program that promotes clean water solutions in emerging markets.
- Look for providers actively speaking and participating with leading organizations such as the EPA’s Green Power Partnership, REBA, the Data Center Coalition’s energy committee and the RE100.
- Look for providers touting on-site physical features such as smart temperature and lighting controls, rainwater reclamation, recycling and waste initiatives, and EV charging stations.
For more information about sustainability in the data center industry, visit our sustainability site.