Highlighting the role of data centres in sustainability

Highlighting the role of data centres in sustainability: how a new pact supports SDIA roadmap initiatives

16 March 2021 | Max Schulze

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Max Schulze

Blog Author | executive chairman, Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance (SDIA)

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The SDIA was pleased to see the recent announcement regarding the formation of the Climate Neutral Data Center Pact.

The SDIA was pleased to see the recent announcement regarding the formation of the Climate Neutral Data Center Pact. The Pact is a new self-regulation effort on behalf of a number of leading data centre infrastructure providers. This collective of data centre operators and beneficiaries are moving to cooperate and explore ways to address vital tenants of sustainability including power efficiency, carbon-free power, and water efficiency.

This development underscores the increasing awareness in high-tech industries across Europe for the need to create sustainable solutions that support technological innovations. Implementing sustainable measures in the data centre management playbook is a core component for creating a truly sustainable digital infrastructure. Data centres can heavily contribute to negative environmental impacts, and the SDIA firmly believes that these operations can be improved to provide critical services while lessening the damage they cause on the environment. As society increases its reliance on digital solutions that threaten to strain ecological resources and endanger a sustainable future, this new initiative reaffirms the SDIA’s call for awareness and the widening acknowledgement of the need for change.

The Pact’s consideration of recycling as well as reducing resource and material consumption is key to implementing broader efforts that take into account sustainability protocols that are both actionable and measurable. The collective appears to have plans to monitor progress and collect feedback from its members in an effort to identify productive measures and foster idea sharing. The SDIA finds this intent to transition data centre operators into a sustainable digital economy encouraging given the large-scale impact data centres have on the EU’s overall power consumption. In fact, data centres have one of the fastest growing carbon footprints, heavily contributing to CO2 emissions.

The SDIA Roadmap to Sustainable Digital Infrastructure by 2030 encompasses the impact from data centres as part of the larger framework of digital infrastructure. The SDIA further breaks down the components toward sustainable digital infrastructure into addressable clusters with precise goals targeting quantifiable outcomes. By exploring how emissions, pollution, energy and resource consumption, and waste affect the entire value chain of digital services, the SDIA advocates actionable, scalable approaches that can be applied by data centres as well as construction companies, electrical and mechanical infrastructure manufacturers, energy providers, hardware and software designers, and other advocacy organisations.

All of the SDIA’s Roadmap activities are designed to scale, measure, report, and innovate with benchmarks that specifically define how digital infrastructure can implement and refine sustainable practices. By considering the impact and interrelatedness of the entire high-tech value chain, the SDIA looks to bridge gaps in processes, materials, and consumption patterns that span or influence more than one sector. Infrastructure, by its very nature, is a system or network of components that form the foundation of an entity. When it comes to digital infrastructure, data centres are a vital part of an integrated network that must be evaluated.

The entire Alliance, its members, and network plan to dedicate resources in support of the Pact's efforts. The SDIA itself intends to join the Pact to lend experience and voice to the cause and the greater objective of collaborative sustainability outcomes. With a roadmap to sustainable digital infrastructure by 2030 already in place, the SDIA and its members are committed to supporting and collaborating with like-minded organisations to develop, promote, and accelerate concrete plans with timelines and targets that have practical application.

Efforts to limit data centre contributions to negative environmental outcomes are core to creating a sustainable high-tech infrastructure for the EU. SDIA is eager to help further outline specific projects and initiatives that members of both groups can leverage to implement actionable steps to reduce waste and emissions. By tying these steps to milestones and goals that are shared with members, organisations can leverage the SDIA’s sustainability metrics and create transparent reporting within the framework of the Roadmap. With regular reporting and insight, everyone involved can recalibrate plans and use data from an industry cross section to guide decision making and refine sustainability efforts. The ultimate goal is to define action items that lead to sustainable digital solutions that support cloud and Internet innovation while lessening adverse environmental effects.

Implementing sustainable measures requires clear steps that can be implemented from the bottom up. Involving end users, corporations, and decision makers in the planning and awareness that goes into creating policies is critical to successful adoption. The SDIA looks forward to learning more about the Pact’s plans for involving operators in implementing measures that encourage the self-regulation noted in the initiative. Accountability can only be anticipated when providers understand how, not just why, sustainability can be integrated into existing processes, systems, and data centres. Balancing priorities, costs, impacts, and measures for these actions can impede or propel success in this area. The SDIA is prepared to support data centre partners and operators to define measurable ways to implement sustainable practices that are scalable, practicable, and viable.

The Pact is another opportunity for the SDIA partners and members to add their expertise and input to a sector increasingly open to change. The SDIA encourages its own alliance participants to offer their support to the common goal to create a sustainable digital infrastructure throughout the European Union.