As a global society, we are incredibly and unsustainably wasteful. Today, we use 1.6 times the volume of resources that our planet can sustain, according to a report by WWF. Another study from the World Economic Forum states that one refuse truck full of plastic is dumped into our oceans every minute. If we continue, it is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050 - a situation that is very serious and one that calls for immediate action. For any business, this is as much a matter of ethics as it is of business and profitability. Addressing climate change issues must be at the heart of every company’s strategy. Data centers should be no different given the amount of heat and carbon they are known to generate.
As the world continues to overuse its precious, limited resources, increasingly scarce materials will become more expensive and challenging to source. The only way to overcome this is to create a model of manufacturing products with minimal waste that can be upgraded, serviced, reused, refurbished, or recycled. Lighting, of course, can play a huge role in that.
Unfortunately, often outdated perceptions or a reluctance to change the status quo have been the main barriers in adopting this approach by the industry over the past several years. However, we are now witnessing a paradigm shift in the industry. There is a heightened awareness that has been driven by the outcomes of COP26 UN climate change conference, competitive incentives, new regulations, and government coercion is encouraging the move to a circular economy. The fact that many local, regional, and state government bodies are now formally committed to the transition towards a circular economy is a key motivator for businesses competing to sell products or services to these entities. In the long run it is the appetite for sustainability that will drive the demand for a circular economy.
As long-time advocates for the business and environmental benefits of circularity, we at Signify, advocate recycling and re-using equipment/hardware as we feel this plays a critical role in taking any data center even a step closer to its sustainability goals.
LED there be light
Owing to the size of the industry, a smart first step is to swap out the old inefficient legacy warehouse lighting, where it still exists, for new efficient LED lighting. LED lighting can be up to 80% more efficient than traditional lighting, and as LED lighting can last up to 25 times longer than conventional sources, so you also get the benefit of reduced maintenance costs. LED lights can also offer instant illumination with no warm-up, flicker-free light performance, choice of colour temperatures (daylight, natural or warm), plus due to lesser heat generated, LED lights are ideal for these data-critical environments. Also, while lighting may be only a small portion of energy use within data centers, it can have a significant impact on minimizing costs and energy used for one of the larger energy drains within these facilities - cooling.
But the possibilities get even brighter, so to speak. When organisations make the switch to LED lighting, a layer of lighting controls can also be added to enable further savings. The lighting levels can be automatically adjusted depending on the activities taking place. These additional energy savings can come from daylight-sensing, scene/task setting and prescence/occupancy detection, all of which will help to further reduce the energy consumption of the lighting.
There is, however, a whole new possibility to explore for the industry – circularity. Here’s how.
Circularity: A strategic business decision
Continuing the linear model of ‘take-make-dispose’ indefinitely is impossible, as we will run out of fossil fuels and other finite resources. The ‘dispose’ part of the model is already pulling us in the direction of adverse climate change, polluted oceans, and ever-increasing landfill.
All data centers face the same challenge of how to design and operate their facilities to reduce impact without sacrificing performance or reliability. Data centers, like many other buildings, are of course built using materials such as concrete, steel, and iron, which have large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions embodied/associated within them. However, thoughtful design and innovations can minimize carbon intensive construction through using sustainable materials and processes. Data centers can also be designed to reuse waste products in operation or disseminate by-products such as waste heat to local communities.
According to IDC, there are two main approaches data centers can take to reduce their embedded impact.
- Apply circular economy principles to waste heat and water recycling
- Use sustainable building materials and processes to reduce embodied carbon
The circular economy refers to a departure from our current linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model. It is a regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing, and narrowing energy and material loops. Like infrastructure including hardware, lighting installed in a data center can preserve value and avoid waste. By using the circular economy model, data centers can minimise or prevent waste throughout the product lifecycle and recycle valuable materials
Moving beyond infrastructure and hardware, lights and luminaires also have a huge role to play in the sustainability and circularity in a data center. A circular portfolio consists of four categories: serviceable luminaires, circular components, intelligent systems, and circular services. Serviceable luminaires are fixtures that can be upgraded, serviced, connectable, energy-efficient, reusable, and recyclable. Circular components are exchangeable and have recyclable parts, such as drivers, controls, and LED boards. Intelligent systems monitor serviceable luminaires and enable preventive maintenance. Finally, circular services aim to prolong lifetimes and provide customers with end-of-contract options
A great example of serviceable luminaires is 3D printed lighting. These luminaires are designed to be upgraded to meet the emerging needs of data centers. Whether these needs are performance improvements (higher efficacies in lumen per watt (lm/W) or better light quality), a diverse look and feel (different colour, texture or shaped housing), or a system upgrade, the modular concept facilitates these needs. Instead of replacing the whole luminaire, modules can be exchanged or added, thus preserving value and avoiding waste.
3D printing is a powerful tool that helps design and manufacture customised, recyclable products for consumer and business customers. At Signify, we offer a range of products designed for a circular economy and a lower carbon footprint. For example, 3D printed luminaires are printed with recyclable polycarbonate and are designed to be fully reused at the end of their lifetime, avoiding material waste. What’s more, when compared with traditional luminaries, these innovative circular designs use no paint, less parts, and less screws. Another advantage is that 3D printed luminaires can be made to customer’s precise specifications, blending with existing fixtures or integrating highly customised design features, and delivered in a fraction of the traditional manufacturing lead time. A 3D printed luminaire has almost up to 47% lower carbon footprint for its materials, production, and logistics than its conventional equivalent. As a business, 3D printing allows manufacture on-demand and close to customers, reducing the carbon footprint of freight operations.
With circularity as an integral part of a sustainable future, a customers’ sustainability objectives can be supported with services. The Light-as-a-Service (LaaS) model combines lighting design, installation, and maintenance in a single contract. Built on the concept of Circular Lighting, this includes design and install, operation, and maintenance of the product to ensure there is no need to discard a luminaire. With the connected system these lights work on, maintenance is easy, which cuts down on waste, costs, downtime, and manpower. This model gives the customer the flexibility to return the equipment, reuse it, or recycle it. Making these luminaires is one of the best examples of how sustainability can open doors to innovation and free up investment resources in other avenues. One such product that finds its best use case in demanding environments like the industry is the Pacific LED gen5. This luminaire offers the best of durability, circularity while bringing the option of integrating with Interact to bring greater energy savings, enhanced safety and productivity.
We are living in one of the most exciting eras, and our transformative actions will dictate the future of many generations to come. As a lighting solution company, Signify has been playing our part and introducing solutions and services that keep the response to climate change at our heart - these solutions have kept circularity as a focus. As we are now in the most crucial decade for climate action, we must leave behind the old idea of the linear economy, built on profligate waste and a dangerous disregard of its consequences. Instead lets further the action that takes us closer to a clean circular economy that allows people, infrastructure, and the planet we depend on to thrive into the future.