Environmental, Social and Governance issues, or ESG, are a set of standards corporations consider and comply to that safeguard the environment, including government policies specifically addressing climate change. Many organizations are focusing more and more on ESG and aim to have net-zero emissions by the year 2050.
One way to achieve ESG goals is for companies to drive sustainability through their supply chains with data centers being a key component of that strategy. Much of the world's data is stored, managed, and distributed by data centers. Coupled with the increasing demand for processing, storage and operations from online platforms/social media, video streaming, smart and connected infrastructure, autonomous vehicles, and artificial intelligence, has led to exponential growth in data centers.
Data centers, however, require a tremendous amount of energy to operate. The current best practice being adopted by many to increase data center sustainability is to run things on electricity while taking steps to clean up electrical generation.
But the current statistics are staggering. According to the International Energy Agency, data centers consume approximately 200 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, or nearly 1% of global electricity demand, contributing to 0.3% of all global CO2 emissions. Likewise, approximately 0.5% of total US greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to data centers.
What ESG-minded Clients Seek
Because of their high-energy use and environmental impact, more and more corporations who use data centers for their electronic operations are requiring them to be designed according to energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Centers that have built on-site renewable energy sources is another solution companies seek when choosing a data center for their operations. In addition, a data center facility should be equipped with motion-activated sensors for dimming or turning off the lights when no one is in certain parts of the center and are incorporating software into the site’s operations to better manage cooling demands based on usage trends.
Moving forward, environmentally friendly criteria will most likely accelerate and become more commonplace with companies as they seek out a data center partner. This shift will continue to be fueled by government policies and social issues as the microscope that large corporations and more importantly, their environmental-conscious practices, continue to be magnified.
How Data Centers are Increasing Sustainability
With such tactics in demand, data centers can greatly improve their ESG offerings. For example, they can reduce in certain areas, such as not installing too much cooling capacity and inefficiently distributing it throughout the complex. Poorly managed data center cooling can result in extreme heat which can lead to major stress on servers and storage devices. This can cause downtime, damage, and shorter equipment lifespan which only will increase an operator’s capital expenditures and significantly inflate power costs.
Likewise, data centers are becoming ‘smart centers’ in many ways. Innovations in efficiency practices like cold aisle containment and advanced use of artificial intelligence for automated temperature monitoring have helped in reducing data centers power utilization. Inefficient data center power distribution can lead to wasted energy, not only raising existing costs but potentially arresting future business growth and service expansions.
Lastly, many data centers are incorporating renewable energy. Data center facilities tied to wind and solar energy sources minimizes water and carbon footprints. If a data center purchases renewable energy certificates from electricity providers, this can also be counted toward a client’s ESG goals. For the center, such investments gradually shift the electrical grid toward renewable energy sources, lowering the complex’s overall environmental impact.
Sustainability and energy efficiency are going to become the mainstay in the coming years—both from what a data center client is seeking, and from the operational side of data centers themselves. Those data centers that provide clients ideal eco-friendly solutions by leveraging renewable energy sources, and other measures that reduce the carbon footprint and create an environmentally optimal operational environment will be the most successful-for both client and center.