The climate crisis is without doubt the greatest challenge currently facing humanity, so we have seen increased attention and action from governments, businesses and individuals in order to reduce emissions and stop runaway climate change. Whilst we are all aware of the overwhelming evidence of the need for us to take urgent action to mitigate our impact on the planet, we are living through the digital age, which is reliant upon digital technology and communications which generate vast swathes of data that need to be produced, distributed and stored. Businesses that aren’t embracing technology are struggling to compete, so we need to draw a balance between technological demands and sustainability.
Without data centres, the digital world as we know it would simply cease to exist; yet, aware of their environmental impact, many data centres are taking significant steps towards sustainability in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, whilst still providing the indispensable function of connecting, storing, and processing information, and ensuring that the data produced by individuals and organisations is continuously accessible, secure, and recoverable.
Eco-friendly data centre design
Purpose built data centres are designed with advanced systems that improve energy efficiency while reducing carbon footprints. Sustainability goes beyond just energy efficiency; it touches on the entire lifecycle of a data centre and means adopting sustainability in design, infrastructure and business operations.
One of the most effective ways in which data centres are reducing emissions is by becoming more energy efficient. They are adopting various strategies, such as replacing cooling systems with more efficient alternatives, using renewable energy sources, optimising power utilisation and introducing virtualisation technologies that allow servers to run multiple applications, significantly reducing energy consumption.
Cooling is a crucial component in maintaining the performance and reliability of data centres. However, it is also the most energy-consuming aspect, accounting for up to 40% of data centre power consumption according to the EU Commission. To address this, data centres have started adopting high-efficiency air cooling systems that drastically reduce energy usage while maintaining optimal temperature levels. One example is adiabatic cooling, which helps reduce energy consumption and enables lower power consumption during times of lower workloads.
Energy management and monitoring
With an effective energy management strategy and monitoring system in place, data centres can ensure optimum performance whilst minimising environmental impact. The ultimate goal is to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, while maintaining the quality and reliability of data services. Power from renewable sources and carbon offsetting play an important role here. Our use of power from renewable sources reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, carbon offsetting allows us to offset our carbon emissions through investment in carbon-saving projects, and our use of HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) in our backup generators in place of red diesel eliminates up to 90% of net carbon dioxide and significantly reduces nitrogen oxide (NOx), particulate matter and carbon monoxide emissions.
Recycling and reusing e-waste
As the technology sector continues to advance, there is a growing volume of electronic waste, or e-waste, which poses a significant threat to the environment. E-waste takes up a lot of space in landfills and can release hazardous chemicals that are harmful to the environment. To combat this, data centres must look towards advising clients on recycling and reusing electronic devices at the end of their life cycles or donating them to organisations that can repurpose them.
By achieving environmental certifications such as ISO 14001:2015 or ISO 50001:2018, data centre operators demonstrate their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint, minimising waste, and promoting a more sustainable future. Such certifications also assure stakeholders and customers that the data centre is operating in compliance with environmental regulations, and in alignment with industry best practices.
Advocacy and collaboration
Data centres are advocating and collaborating with policymakers to introduce sustainable legislation. For example, the European Code of Conduct for Data Centres was developed to improve the resource utilisation and efficiency of data centres across Europe. When data centre operators work together with policy makers, they can create mutually beneficial policies that promote innovation and economic growth while also ensuring that data centres are sustainable, secure, and resilient; it is only by working together that we can build a digital ecosystem that benefits everyone.
Sustainable data centres, like our London edge facility in Farnborough, and our Manchester site, aim to minimise their environmental impact through the efficient use of energy and resources. It is not only about using renewable energy or incorporating energy-efficient equipment, but also about architecting efficient processes to improve PUE, employing responsible waste management strategies, and more. By committing to these approaches, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable digital future.