Data that doesn't cost the Earth: Planning to practice

Blogs and Articles

To those who have been reading our blogs on data center infrastructure sustainability, we would like to say thank you very much. This may not be the sexiest or simplest of topics.

Chris Pennington
Director Environmental Sustainability, Iron Mountain Data Centers
April 11, 20237 mins
Data That Doesn't Cost The Earth: Planning to Practice - Chris Pennington
To those who have been reading my blogs on data center infrastructure sustainability, I would like to say thank you very much. This may not be the sexiest or simplest of topics. But, given the climate crisis we face and the critical role that IT infrastructure can play in mitigating impact and clearing a path for others to follow, it is one of the most important. We’re all invested in a sustainable digital future.

From planning to practice

So far in this series we have looked at:

  • Efficiency & Operations - the three core performance indicators for operational sustainability: Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), Water Use Efficiency (WUE) and Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE); how they are measured and how that information is shared.
  • The Evolution of Renewables - the growth in renewables generation, pricing and stability, and progress in shifting from Virtual Power Purchasing Agreements (VPPAs) to complete decarbonization, i.e. using 100% clean electricity 100 percent of the time
  • Embodied Impact - the latest state of play in measuring and tackling emissions generated by buildings and equipment; how embodied carbon labelling and green building standards are helping improve measurement and improvement in this area.

Key resources

I would like to give a few pointers on practical steps to take - the sorts of resources and support data center users can look for as they navigate their route to improved sustainability, and the standard channels for sharing your sustainability data.

The International Standards Organisation (ISO) is the foundation for any successful fact-based process for year-on-year improvement. Because they offer rigour and good practical support. I would also recommend that you consider signing up with the iMasons Climate Accord, the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact and the Science-based Targets Initiative.

Besides these organisations, there are so many sustainability consultants and sources of guidance that I hesitate to make strong recommendations. I'd suggest that you continue your research and make your own decisions to suit your business. The critical consideration is making your environmental impact transparent using accepted and accredited metrics.

First steps

My advice to a data center user researching the sustainability or otherwise of their IT infrastructure footprint would be

Act now: The first step is to stop ignoring the environmental impact of your footprint, whether it is operational or embodied. This approach will no longer satisfy staff, investors or customers. But on the positive side, if you are reading this, you already know this, so the next steps should follow naturally.

Ask: Ask for information from your internal team or service provider. We answer all sorts of questions from our customers every day, and you can quickly and easily find out how much power you use or how many hours are powered by generators as opposed to renewables. Or, at the more sophisticated end, ask for accurate and accredited PUE, WUE and CUE data.

Evaluate Review what you find out. Is your provider engaged in developing solutions that will help you achieve your own company’s sustainability goals? Do they utilize accredited programs and achieve third party verification of their results? The following graphic gives you a quick idea of what to look for based on IMDC’s activities. Every provider will be slightly different, but hopefully this is a useful reference to all the areas we have covered:

Data That Doesn't Cost The Earth: Planning To Practice - What to look for in a sustainable data center partner

Align: Sustainability requires extensive coordination. Before you agree your targets you need to bring all the relevant people together. If you are on the IT side of the business, talk to procurement and Investor Relations or the Corporate Responsibility team. If you are on the board, bring the teams together to make things happen. If you are unhappy with your provider, talk to them or select one that can support your targets. Once agreed, be sure to incorporate your sustainability targets into your future infrastructure tenders/RFPs.

Report: As soon as you have data, report it to the market - to customers, investors and shareholders. It may not be fully accurate at first, so make any assumptions clear. And repeat the same process year-on-year using consistent metrics as you progress towards your goals.

Collaborate with us

For anyone else reading this blog, whether you are already well down the road to achieving your goals, a colocation provider, a consultant, or working in a completely different sector, you are also welcome to get in touch with us to find out more or share your own ideas. We are designing and operating our infrastructure in exciting times, and always need to be on the look-out for new partnerships and technologies that can help us reach our shared goals.

Over the last few years, IMDC has built up useful expertise on everything from operational metrics and environmental standards to green building; from carbon credit sharing to renewable tracking; from data center decommissioning to asset certification and recycling. All of our innovations are replicable and publicly available and we are happy to support any new initiatives as more and more businesses take on this enormous challenge.

We all need a sustainable digital future, and the choices we make today are foundational to how we will achieve it.