Real-Life Recommendations to Help Reduce Data Centers’ Carbon Footprint
A little less talk. A lot more action, please.
When it comes to reducing carbon emissions and implementing sustainability focused operations, this is the sentiment felt across the data infrastructure industry—and across the entire global business world for that matter. As data centers continue to gobble up more and more of the world’s electricity, the time for talk is over. The time to act is now.
But what does that actually mean? How can data centers and telecom companies turn this demand for change into real actionable steps that deliver carbon-reducing results? Data center leaders know something must be done, but it can be daunting to know where to start. The good news is, any action, whether large or small, can have a significant impact on making the world a greener place. With any new business challenge we face, you just have to start somewhere. So, let’s go. We’ve compiled eight key recommendations to help you get started on your carbon-neutral journey.
1. Set a Sustainability-First State of Mind
First thing’s first. To make sustainability the top priority in every conversation and every decision, it has to start with establishing the right frame of mind for not only you, but every employee within your organization. From your executive leadership team to middle management to entry-level employees, getting buy-in across your entire team will ensure sustainability is a key focus at every turn.
Start by developing an internal communications strategy that clearly and effectively explains your sustainability goals and why they are important. Gaining buy-in can be challenging, but clear communication will help get your message across. And if you can find a way to show how your new strategy impacts employees on a more personal, individualized level, your teammates will be more apt to recognize their role as a true driver of change.
Monetary costs may also be a barrier to overcome as far as buy-in goes. However, your sustainability strategy should not be thought of as just a box to check off your list or another line item in the annual budget spreadsheet, and it most definitely should not be thought of as a hindrance to achieving solid financial gains. In fact, establishing an effective sustainability strategy can bolster the success of your business and strengthen your reputation in the marketplace. Putting resources toward going carbon neutral is an invaluable investment that will not only appeal to your customers and investors but will also have a lasting impact on the health of our planet and how we leave it for the next generation.
2. Understand Your Carbon Emission Sources
To ensure the actions you take are measurable and the sustainability goals you set are realistic and achievable, it’s a good idea to assess where your company currently stands in terms of emission sources and their scope across your business operations. Be sure to look at the direct emissions your business activity creates and indirect emissions that come from the electricity or heat your company uses. Most importantly, do not forget to factor in the emissions that come from all other indirect business activities produced by your suppliers, partners, and vendors. These indirect sources can account for a large percentage of your overall emission impact and can include emissions generated from travel, construction components used, and even your customers’ use of your facility throughout its entire life span.
3. Seek Out Green Energy Sources
Consider changing up your company’s energy sources. Depending on your data center location, you may be able to harness the power of wind turbines or solar power for cooling during warmer times of the year. Also consider employing emerging green energy sources, such as hydropower or green hydrogen, which involves the process of using renewable electricity, such as wind or solar power, to split water and produce hydrogen in an environmentally responsible way.
4. Optimize Energy Consumption of New Builds and Existing Facilities
Whether you are looking to optimize energy consumption at an existing data center, acquire a new facility or build a new one, make sure to look at the ratio between the total energy consumption of your facility and the energy consumption by your IT equipment, aka the Power Usage Effectiveness ratio (PUE). Once you have a solid understanding of your optimization potential, it will be much easier to identify the best ways to cut energy consumption.
5. Utilize Free Cooling and Reuse Waste Heat
A cooling system is one of the most important—and one of the most massive—systems inside a data center. It also has the ability to consume a significant amount of energy. So, how do you optimize the energy usage of your cooling process? One way is to utilize a modular structure within your data center to leverage “free cooling”. This practice consists of establishing cold and hot aisles where only the area currently in use needs to be cooled.
Another way to optimize cooling is to take advantage of naturally cool climates and temperatures rather than using mechanical refrigeration. While this may not be a realistic option for data centers located in warmer climates, those that are located in colder areas, such as northern US states or some European countries, can significantly reduce energy use, even if it’s only feasible within three or four months out of the year.
Beyond cooling solutions, data centers can conserve energy by reusing waste heat. Rather than releasing excess heat into the atmosphere, waste heat can be used to warm local homes, businesses, greenhouses and even swimming pools.
6. Recycle Relentlessly
Everyone knows recycling can go a long way in helping organizations reduce their carbon footprint, and establishing a deep commitment to recycling is critical to any sustainability strategy. The key is to make sure your waste is disposed of properly and is recycled. Pay close attention to how your electronic waste is disposed of and how much waste is generated from data center equipment packing materials. It is also worthwhile to evaluate your suppliers and vendors to ensure they are using environmentally responsible materials and are implementing green practices across their own operations.
7. Monitor Energy Usage in Real Time
While it may take some time and technical savvy to set up, establishing a way to monitor electricity usage in real time is a great way to keep tabs on what’s happening in your data center. Also, when customers have the ability to monitor their servers’ workloads, electricity usage and the associated costs tied to it, they are better able to make decisions related to efficiency and their environmental impact.
8. Get Involved with Like-Minded Companies
And finally, another way to kick start your journey to net zero is to collaborate with other companies that share your passion for sustainability and dedication to acting. As they say, there is great power in numbers, and working together toward a common goal can result in a bigger win overall.
For example, last year, our Finland-based data center and colocation company1 (previously Ficolo) joined forces with Verne Global2 as part of Triple Point’s Digital 9 Infrastructure3. Working with these sustainability-focused companies that share our deep commitment to the environment, we have been able to combine our resources and expertise to accelerate global connectivity and drive progress toward carbon negativity.
“A little less talk. A lot more action, please.”
Attend sustainability focused tech conferences and join environmentally focused associations and movements, such as The iMasons4 or Greener Data5. If you get the chance to participate on a panel or have the opportunity to be interviewed about your sustainability journey, take it! The more you share your story, the more companies you will inspire to create their own goals to go green.
Begin Your Sustainability Journey Today
From recycling to leveraging green energy sources to partnering with like-minded companies, there are many simple yet powerful actions you can take to begin your journey toward achieving net zero. As leaders in the tech and digital infrastructure space, we typically don’t shy away from innovation or blazing our own trails. And becoming an innovative agent of sustainable change is no different. You just have to take the first step.