Data centre experts discuss how they’re demonstrating a commitment to greener data centre operations

Data centre experts discuss how they’re demonstrating a commitment to greener data centre operations

Data centre executives are paying close attention to their management practices to ensure they meet their sustainability targets most effectively. A number of organisations across the industry are offering the opportunity to equip data centre leaders with the required skills to lead their teams with sustainability top of mind.

Uptime Institute, the global digital infrastructure authority, is one example and recently announced another addition to its growing educational offerings with the launch of its new Accredited Sustainability Advisor (ASA) program. The ASA course is designed to deliver essential knowledge of sustainability concepts and the practical skills data centre professionals need to develop and implement a comprehensive, world-class sustainability strategy.

More than 70 countries have established commitments to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas by 2050. New regulations are proliferating worldwide, with hundreds of pieces of climate change and sustainability legislation, standards and requirements enacted over the past 10 years. As demand for senior-level data centre professionals and IT/facility engineers with advanced sustainability expertise continues to rise, sustainability skillsets have never been more valuable or impactful. The ASA course cuts through the mounting volume of information and opinion around sustainability programmes and offers insight on global best practices.

The first online instructor-led, ASA course includes four half-day sessions of intensive instruction and exercises, ending with a proctored examination on the fifth day. Uptime also offers private course options for companies that wish to create exclusive corporate learning and development programmes for ongoing employee education.

“With the growing effects of climate change on health, safety and global economies, world-class digital infrastructure owners and operators require hands-on, practical training to build a comprehensive and fully actionable sustainability strategy,” said Christopher M. Hill, Global Head, Product Management, Uptime Institute. “Our course ensures participants graduate with the skills necessary to lead their organisations in achieving sustainability objectives, both now and into the future.”

Uptime’s longstanding leadership in digital infrastructure sustainability and efficiency dates back to its inaugural Green Data Center Forum in 2007. The launch of the new ASA course represents yet another step in the organisation’s expanding programme to inform, guide and support sustainability advancements throughout the sector. Through its new sustainability educational training, Sustainability Consulting Services and related offerings, Uptime advises some of the world’s largest digital infrastructure owners and operators, many vendors and equipment manufacturers, regulators and policymakers to help the industry design, build and operate digital infrastructure sustainably — without compromising resiliency.

Uptime recently announced a complete series of six Executive Advisory reports that take managers through the key areas that must be addressed in an environmental sustainability strategy, from creating the strategy and reducing energy consumption to tracking and reporting carbon emissions and complying with key standards and legislation.

We heard from a number of industry experts to learn their thoughts on sustainability practices and their commitment to a greener data centre industry.

David Watkins, Solutions Director for VIRTUS Data Centres: “Data centres are taking an aggressive stance on climate change, committing to tackle their own environmental impact. As a result, today’s providers are at the forefront of constructing some of the most sustainable buildings.

“Maximising efficiency has always been a mainstay of VIRTUS’ strategy, with protecting the environment being one of our top priorities. We were the first provider to commit to using 100% carbon-zero energy, powering our sites solely with renewable energy from wind, solar and tidal sources since 2012 saving around 45,000,000 tonnes of CO2 every year – enough to fill Wembley stadium five times over. We are also committed to decarbonising by 2025.

“VIRTUS strives to continually innovate and increase the efficiency of our services. Back in 2014 we were the first provider to deploy technologies like fresh air cooling, low energy indirect evaporative air solutions and highly efficient UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) systems that have the ability to hibernate parts of the system when they’re not being used to avoid energy waste through overcooling.

“And it’s no exaggeration to say that environmental ambitions are built into every step of the design, construction and maintenance of our facilities. We introduce proactive sustainability and efficiency measures at inception and adopt the latest in building technologies, source materials sustainably and include features like exterior living walls. We also invest in comprehensive recycling schemes, recycling more than 94% of waste across our business last year. But we want to do more and have set targets to improve year on year.

“Our commitments are verified by independent accreditations and standards, with a number of our facilities rated BREEAM ‘Excellent’ (standards that look at the environmental credentials of commercial buildings, verifying their performance and comparing them against sustainability benchmarks), placing them in the top 10% of UK non-domestic buildings. VIRTUS’ LONDON4 facility is one of the most efficient commercial buildings in the UK and all of our sites are ISO14001 and ISO50001 accredited, recognising our commitment to the highest environmental standards. This means we are held accountable for not only maintaining the standards we hold now, but also that we are on track to further improve efficiency in the future.

“As well as innovating, we also have a broad view of sustainability from the carbon impact of the physical construction of the buildings, to how we use natural resources such as rainwater harvesting to reduce sanitary water consumption and aquifers to access natural water resources. We work relentlessly to ensure our facilities are operated and maintained sustainably and are members of key environmental bodies and schemes, such as the Climate Change Agreement for data centres and the leading data centre body, TechUk, to ensure we are influencing and learning from the wider industry.”

Giancarlo Giacomello, Data Centre Technical Project Manager, Aruba Enterprise: “At Aruba we’ve always placed a commitment to a sustainable future at the centre of our business vision; in fact, we’ve been working on an agenda that has allowed us to gradually become an environmentally conscious organisation. This is owing to the usage of renewable energy, as well as investments in our own hydroelectric and photovoltaic systems, and the design and building of climate-neutral data centres.

“To make a data centre sustainable, the potential impact of its energy consumption must be taken into account from the beginning of the design process, starting with the location selection to determine the availability of renewable energy sources to power the data centre and its associated activities. As an example, we have and are continuing to acquire hydroelectric plants in Italy to produce our own renewable energy. This significant contribution to self-generated energy means we have been able to minimise the environmental impact of our data centre network – currently we have an annual average output of 35 GWh with a total installed capacity of 8,554 KW. Our data centres also harness clean energy from the sun through photovoltaic panels installed on all usable surfaces of our buildings with the best exposure to the light.

“We have over 10,258 m2 installed roof panels across our data centres, resulting in a total power of 2,310 KW. We also tap into geothermal resources in the subsoil to achieve a high level of efficiency with our cooling systems equipment. With temperatures remaining within the normal range, ground water is drawn from our wells (that are currently being expanded) and returned into the subsoil after the heat exchange process. In some of our data centre facilities, we go further by drawing in low temperatures from Dynamic Free Cooling, which allows us to save energy by using the outside air, filtered accordingly, to cool the server room. The hot air is expelled from the building by large fan units, with electric shutters opening and closing, as required.

“As part of our strategy, we also began working with other European providers and agreed to a Self-Regulatory Initiative to make data centres in Europe climate neutral by 2030. This is a historic commitment by the European cloud and data centre industry to proactively lead the way in the transition to a climate neutral economy. The CEOs of 26 companies around the world have also signed the European Green Digital Coalition. The aim is to invest in the development and deployment of sustainable, efficient digital services, develop tools to measure the impact of technology on the environment and thus join forces for a ‘green’ Digital Transformation for the benefit of the environment, the community and the economy.”

Matt Edgley, Director, Teledata: “As a responsible data centre provider, we work hard to keep our energy consumption as low as we possibly can. That’s why we’ve taken a number of steps to monitor and reduce the amount of energy we use across our Manchester facility, in line with the city’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2038.”In 2019 we invested £1.5 million into a 2MW capable battery storage system which enables us to store electricity from the national grid at times of low demand and discharge it during the most beneficial periods, acting as a reserve during peak tariff times. The solution offers integrated variable voltage optimisation to deliver a stabilised voltage, thus boosting the resilience of the facility by improving the shelf life of equipment, reducing unnecessary energy waste and optimising the incoming power supply. We were supported on this project by the Business Growth Hub and we are the only colocation provider in the UK to have implemented these technologies.

“More recently, we announced in January this year that we will be considering the option of installing a scalable 1.2MW hydrogen-ready fuel cell microgrid to provide clean energy to our facility. The fuel cell would convert fuels such as natural gas, biogas and hydrogen – or a blend of fuels – into electricity through an electrochemical process that requires no combustion, therefore avoiding the emissions normally associated with burning this type of fuel. Working with Conrad Energy, Electricity North West (Construction & Maintenance) Limited (ENWCML) and Bloom Energy we would be the first data centre in the UK to deploy fuel cell technology and the move would help us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a cleaner, hydrogen-ready fuel supply.

“Other measures put in place to improve our energy efficiency include metered power at every board and office in the building; the implementation of highly intelligent control systems to monitor cooling consumption; cold aisle containment; under-floor cold air channelling to minimise wastage; variable fans within condenser units; free air cooling systems; office space air conditioning controls to minimise wastage out of hours; highly efficient cooling pumps and cold aisle blanking throughout the facility.

“Intelligent Building Management Systems (BMS) allow us to harness Machine Learning via automated control temperature sensors placed in strategic locations to ensure that all units are working at the required temperature and load levels. The BMS monitors all air conditioning components to ensure maximum efficiency and issues an early warning to non-optimal situations. These measures have already reduced our carbon output by over 500 tonnes annually, with the fuel cell set to reduce our carbon footprint even further providing clean, always-on power while facilitating a transition to a net-zero future.”

Matt Pullen, EVP Managing Director, Europe at CyrusOne: “With sustainability continuing to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, CyrusOne has continued to make progress and take strides towards a greener future, as we head ever closer towards the pledge to be carbon neutral by 2030, as outlined in our Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact.

“We recently released our third annual 2022 sustainability report which outlines our overall commitment towards using greener operations within our business strategy and the progress made. All of our European sites across London, Dublin, Frankfurt and Amsterdam have already achieved the 2030 carbon reduction commitments eight years in advance, with these facilities powered by sustainable sources and renewable energy. Furthermore, we have achieved 100% renewable electricity and have managed to counteract the level of diesel used for backup generation.

“In our efforts to become carbon neutral, we have also increased the amount of purchased renewable energy and have signed contracts that provide an additional 107 MWh of renewable power for the years to come. 13% of the overall electricity consumed by the company is from renewable sources, which is an increase from 2020’s figure of around two percent. In 2021, the company increased its renewable energy purchases from 420,000MWh of renewable electricity, to more than 2,800,000MWh. Furthermore, we buy through PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements) which adds renewable capacity locally as opposed to buying RECs which have been heavily castigated by green groups.

“The high levels of water consumption from data centres is an increasing issue and has been frequently highlighted by environmental bodies. At CyrusOne, it has been part of our sustainable mission to combat this issue and we have now achieved net-positive water status in three of our data centres by transitioning these sites over to water-free cooling mechanisms and by taking steps to invest in projects that see water restored in drought-prone areas. We used the Green Grid Water Usage Effectiveness metric to assess how much water is consumed in the US and we are transparent in committing to publish this data which we hope will inspire other operators to do the same.

“Finally, data centre cooling systems traditionally evaporate water that subsequently discharges millions of gallons of water into the local landscape. As a result, we now avoid evaporative cooling so that we can lessen the impact data centres have on water supplies and the environment.

“Overall, CyrusOne is immensely proud of the progress the company has made so quickly and effectively in its sustainability efforts. We are committed at every level and continually thinking of how we can futureproof our operations and industry and look forward to continuing our success.”

Adam Nethersole, VP, Kao Data: “Throughout all areas of the data centre industry, sustainability has become one of the foremost factors of decision making. With countries across the globe facing an energy crisis of unparalleled levels and both customers and investors demanding operators play a key part in reducing the impact of Scope 3 emissions, becoming greener and more energy efficient is now crucial to the future of the sector.

“At Kao Data, sustainability has always been at the heart of our business and it fundamentally forms part of our company DNA. We believe that sustainability truly begins before the design and build stage and it has been one of our guiding principles since the inception of the business.

“As such, we are ensuring that every avenue is explored to minimise our impact on the environment, with a goal to become carbon neutral by 2030. To that effect, we’re signatories of the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact, adhering to their commitments and have also recently become members of the iMasons Climate Accord.

“All our data centres are designed for ultra-sustainable operations, utilising Digital Twin technologies to model and analyse them under various operational conditions prior to the beginning of each build process. This ensures that customers, including those working within HPC, AI, cloud, or enterprise, can benefit from high performance efficiencies and industry-leading uptime.

“In terms of operations, our data centres are powered by 100% renewable energy and deliver an SLA-backed PUE of 1.2, even at partial loads. Further, we are Europe’s first data centre to transition from mineral diesel to renewable, hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), effectively removing fossil fuels from our campus and reducing our generator COemissions by 90%. HVO is proven to be one of the most effective methods for assisting operators in significantly reducing harmful emissions, such as nitrogen oxide, CO2, particulate matter and carbon monoxide.

“In terms of becoming greener, we’re utilising innovative strategies to improve sustainability and keeping up-to-date with the latest technologies which could support our efforts. For example, we’ve incorporated new cooling technologies that can deliver greater energy efficiencies and offer our customers a means to reduce the amount of power consumed within their deployments – something pivotal considering the energy landscape.

“From a renewable energy standpoint, every electron of power consumed by Kao Data is also matched by an equivalent capacity generated at a UK wind farm. So while we use REGO certified energy like many other operators, at Kao Data we remove any uncertainty as to the source and validity of our green energy provision by ensuring our power is matched by genuine, renewable power that is generated locally.

“Importantly, as our high performance platform expands, each one of our new facilities will be built on the same sustainable engineering principles of the last. Looking forward we believe this will be essential as we continue to push the boundaries of sustainability and reach net zero.”

Marc Garner, VP, Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric UK & Ireland: “Today growing concern about the effects of climate change has placed much pressure on the data centre and digital infrastructure sectors. Forces influencing the move toward greener operations include government regulations, the demands of customers and investors, as well as a growing understanding that it is essential to reduce the energy impact of data centres.

“As the sector continues to grow, operators have an obligation to implement and promote greener data centre operations. At Schneider Electric, we have committed to a long-standing strategy to embed environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations into every facet of our organisation. This we believe is essential to drive green operations and assist both customers and partners in achieving their own sustainability objectives.

“Our ambitions include achieving carbon neutrality in our extended ecosystem by 2025; removing harmful greenhouses gases including SF6 from our products and operations by the same date; reaching a validated figure of net-zero operational emissions by 2030; and achieving net zero emissions throughout our entire supply chain, including partners and suppliers, by 2050.

“In furtherance of these targets, we are also evolving our product strategy to ensure that hardware is easier to recycle and re-use and contains minimal environmentally damaging materials.

“Our switchgear, for example, is transitioning to using vacuum interruption and pure air insulation instead of SF6, which is the most potent greenhouse gas. Our cooling products such as the Uniflair family incorporate free-cooling technology to reduce electricity consumption, while our liquid-cooled solutions remove the need for fans inside racks and enclosures, helping drive green operations in applications from HPC clusters to ruggedised edge locations.

“Our commitments to the circular economy are also represented via our Green Premium technologies, which offer sustainable performance by design and help partners and customers alike to gain a better understanding of the embodied carbon footprint of their technologies.

“These products offer industry-leading efficiencies, include transparent environmental information and make minimal use of hazardous substances while complying with environmental regulations such as RoHS and REACH.

“Green Premium products also come with full environmental disclosure such as a Product Environmental Profiles and Circularity Profiles, providing guidance on responsible end-of-life treatment and other recommendations to promote a circular economy.

“Furthermore, to support the efforts of operators across the industry, Schneider Electric has created a first-of-its-kind ‘Environmental Sustainability Metric Framework’ that empowers the sector to take control of its sustainability goals.

“It includes 23 key metrics for operators who are in the Beginning, Advanced and Leading stages of their sustainability journey, helping the industry to standardise the way it measures and reports its environmental impact by proposing five key categories, which include energy use, GHG emissions, water, waste and land use and biodiversity.

“Our commitments to greener data centre operations not only stand within our own business, but our ambition to be our customers partner for sustainability and efficiency. By helping businesses drive new efficiencies throughout the lifecycle we can help them reduce their environmental impact.”

Amanda Sutton, Senior Director, Sustainability, Vantage Data Centres: “Vantage Data Centres is committed to being a responsible corporate citizen, a good community neighbour and a company that supports a thriving business environment in sustainable ways. Last year, we announced an aggressive goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions globally by 2030. This commitment and timeframe mark a significant step for the company in our long-time efforts to continually increase efficiencies and reduce environmental impacts at our hyperscale data centre campuses worldwide. Vantage is also a signatory to the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact, which is an EU wide initiative aligned to our net zero carbon target, as well as an active participant in Infrastructure Masons’ Climate Accord, which is a historic co-operative of companies committed to reducing carbon in digital infrastructure materials, products and power.

“We recognise that energy efficiency and clean power are table stakes for our industry and we are focused on exceeding expectations regarding sustainability outcomes for our projects. Vantage has taken a proactive approach in designing highly efficient data centre campuses with industry-leading Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) while maintaining a commitment to reduce water use. While many conventional data centres consume hundreds of thousands of gallons of water yearly, our air-cooled chillers feature a closed-loop system that needs no on-going water source. With this system, our water usage effectiveness (WUE) is near zero.

“In addition to the development of high-performance data centres, Vantage is also committed to sourcing clean power for our campuses. We are able to offer renewable energy options to customers across all campuses in North America and EMEA and we are actively sourcing and securing renewable energy directly for our sites through power purchase agreements. Today, four of our campuses, including our largest campus in Europe, are powered by more than 99% renewable energy (hydro, wind and tidal).

“While energy and emissions are a primary focus, Vantage also takes steps to reduce the overall environmental impact of our developments by integrating sustainability measures into our overall design. Examples of initiatives include, but are not limited to, waste heat utilisation, drought-resistant landscaping, material recycling, reduction of embodied carbon of materials and low flow water fixtures. Our work doesn’t stop there, in addition to ensuring operational excellence, our operations team is investigating additional measures that can reduce our environmental impact. We have recently commenced a program of using hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) in on-site generators to replace and/or reduce the use of diesel fuel. 

“Our commitment to sustainability is ingrained in all aspects of our business and we are continuously identifying and investing in new opportunities for our company to have a positive impact on the industry and the communities where we operate.”

Andrew Gomarsall, Executive Chairman, N2S: “The data centre industry in general is making huge strides in achieving net zero targets by the end of this decade through various sustainability initiatives and commitments. For example, by signing up to the EU’s Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact, using 100% renewable power, on-site generation of solar and wind energy, deploying more efficient cooling and servers, sustainable buildings design and construction.

“A few are already targeting Scope 3 emissions to make a serious start on decarbonising their supply chains: from the mining of precious and rare metals for use in PCBs to IT equipment assembly manufacture and final product delivery. Of course, this is a longer longer-term strategy and involves the engagement and co-operation of multiple parties.

“However, to maximise the sustainability of their IT assets, data centre owners/operators can do more now in support of their net zero goals. For instance, by implementing more Circular, Zero IT Waste models. These will be geared to maximising hardware lifetimes to reduce overall embodied carbon, by ensuring IT resources are kept in use for as long as possible, maximum value is extracted while in use and materials are sustainably recovered and recycled at the end of their useful life.

“Done well, such an approach can significantly improve facilities’ environmental profiles and support their compliance with increasingly stringent ESGs. Further benefits will come from saving space rather than holding on indefinitely to equipment no longer required and the financial returns from the proceeds of pre-used assets.

“A key part of enabling all of this is the ability to measure and track the IT asset lifecycle including their sustainable reuse once decommissioned and disposal when beyond useful repair. Environmental impact reporting on the types and weights of decommissioned equipment being collected, how much of it is reused/resold and what percentage is recycled/disposed is becoming increasingly necessary. So too, recording how/where disposal was carried out and for what purpose recycled materials were used for.

“Therefore, along with pioneering the sustainable recovery of precious metals from PCBs through bioleaching, we are continuously enhancing our sustainable zero-landfill commitment to IT asset reuse, recycling and disposal with science-based Environmental Impact Reporting. For example, to monitor and clearly demonstrate how the customer aligns to the key UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals): SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production in support of a circular economy; SDG 13 – Climate Action in support of decarbonisation and net zero targets; SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation – reducing water consumption and the potential of causing water contamination from the metals and chemicals contained within equipment. This kind of powerful reporting will be a prerequisite for all data centres once Scope 3 becomes mandatory.”

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