Is Sensible Green Data Center Regulation Even Possible in the EU?

EUDCA managing director Alex Rabbetts on The Data Center Podcast

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

April 2, 2021

Earlier this year a group of companies that operate data centers in Europe signed a “pact,” promising to implement certain green data center measures – some of them quite ambitious – and giving themselves deadlines for implementing them.

Behind the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact was a real fear by the industry of new data center sustainability regulations. The idea to draft energy laws for data centers started gathering steam with the arrival of a new European Parliament early last year and gained even more traction as the pandemic made more people acutely aware of their reliance on digital services, in turn pushing more of them to ask how those services work, Alex Rabbetts, managing director of the European Data Center Association, said.

“Pretty much everybody nowadays knows what a Zoom call is,” he said. “Well, that wasn’t the case 12 months ago.”

EUDCA, which lobbies the European Union’s government on behalf of the industry, spearheaded the creation of the pact. We interviewed Rabbetts for The Data Center Podcast to learn how the pact came together and why EUDCA and its members felt a voluntary pact, produced by the industry, wouldn’t put the industry’s interests ahead of what’s best for the environment. (Listen to the full interview on The Data Center PodcastApple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, )

Related:A Truly Sustainable Data Center Industry Will Require Regulation

The fear, Rabbetts explained, was that people who had little knowledge of the data center industry would draft legislation that would harm it. “We’re not adverse to being held responsible, but we don’t want regulation to be something which constricts our ability to actually operate and our ability to grow as a business.”

If you talked to government officials two or three years ago, “they literally did not know what a data center was, or what it did, or how it worked, or whether we were dependent upon them,” he said.

The pandemic changed this. More people learned that behind all the digital services they use are massive computer-filled facilities that consume extraordinary amounts of energy. That realization made the industry a target for environmental legislation, Rabbetts said.

While it’s true that the data center industry is immensely complex and highly specialized, whether a voluntary pledge by the industry is the better alternative to regulation is controversial, and even some long-time industry veterans don’t believe that it is. You can hear about their views at length on an earlier episode of The Data Center Podcast, but the idea, essentially, is that climate change is too big and too urgent of a problem to be left to profit-driven businesses to solve.

Related:Preempting Regulation, EU Operators Strike Green Data Center Pact

Rabbetts’ response is that the data center sector is too varied. There are so many different types of data center operators that it would be difficult to draft legislation they can all successfully comply with. Another issue is the nature of the EU. Any smart data center regulations would have to take local climate into account, for example. The most energy efficient way to cool a data center in Sicily isn’t the most efficient in Finland.

“You can’t have legislation that pushes all data centers into Finland because it’s cold,” Rabbetts said. But if you write legislation that differentiates between north and south, then you’re giving up on the initial goal of EU-wide laws. At that point, “you’re effectively doing in-country legislation.”

Listen to the new episode of The Data Center Podcast for an in-depth conversation on the topic of green data centers and regulation here, or wherever you get your podcasts. (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, )


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