The importance of sustainable data centers

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Learn about the crucial role of data center sustainability in reducing carbon emissions, conserving energy, and creating a more sustainable future.

February 22, 20237 mins
The Importance of Sustainable Data Centers - Data Center with grass

What is data center sustainability?

Delivering digital content and services without sacrificing our needs for healthy communities is what data center sustainability is all about.

At Iron Mountain Data Centers, we recognize the role we play as an important link in the supply chain that our customers rely on for their critical business functions. As our customers continue to set increasingly impactful goals, they are recognizing their footprint inside third party data centers as part of their own environmental performance.

Our industry leading commitments to carbon free energy, energy efficiency and low water consumption help our customers achieve their own environmental goals. Our goal is to be a force for good by modeling how organizations can be the solution to social and environmental challenges while delivering business positive outcomes.

Our data centers have been powered by 100 percent renewable energy since 2017, but that’s only part of our solution to building sustainable data centers.

Why do we need sustainable data centers?

Every day, we create more and more data in our work and daily lives, from the movies we stream to the cars we drive. This means that demand for data storage and processing is growing.

As data demand grows, this puts more energy demand on data centers, which consume a large amount of power. With the majority of the world’s electricity still generated from fossil fuels, this increasing electricity consumption can have an environmental impact.

Sustainable data center design meets the needs of growing data demand while minimizing environmental impact or even creating net-positive results. It uses a holistic approach to evaluate the environmental, economic, and social impact of a data center. The goal of these data center green initiatives is to create a facility that is energy efficient, environmentally responsible and resilient.

What are the benefits of an eco-friendly data center?

There are many benefits to using sustainable practices in data center design and operation. The first, of course, is to reduce environmental impact. In addition, sustainable data centers can also save money through reduced energy and water consumption and can improve the reliability and performance of the infrastructure.

What is sustainable data center design?

While implementing sustainable practices in data center design requires significant investments in technology and infrastructure, as well as changes in operational practices, the long-term benefits of sustainable data centers make it worthwhile.

What goes into designing an eco-friendly data center?

  1. Energy efficiency: Data centers consume a significant amount of energy to power servers, storage systems and other infrastructure. To reduce data center energy consumption, eco-friendly data centers can be designed and operated to be more energy efficient. This can involve using energy-efficient servers and other equipment, implementing power management strategies, and using renewable energy sources.
    One metric we use to measure energy efficiencies in our data centers is PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness). PUE is a ratio that describes how efficiently a data center uses energy. It’s the ratio of the total amount of energy used by a data center to the energy delivered to computing equipment.
    PUE is important because it allows us to measure and track the energy efficiency of a data center. Improving the PUE of a data center can help reduce its environmental impact and lower operating costs.

  2. Water conservation: Data centers can consume large amounts of water to keep technology equipment cool. To reduce water usage, green data centers use more efficient cooling systems, such closed-loop cooling systems, which recycle and reuse water. Our underground data center in Boyers, PA, uses geothermally cooled water from an underground lake to cool the data center.

  3. Waste reduction: Data centers are filled with computer servers, each of which can have packaging that can generate a significant amount of waste. To reduce waste production, sustainable data centers like Iron Mountain have developed recycling and reuse programs and implemented responsible disposal practices for e-waste and hazardous materials, including the servers themselves at end of use.

  4. Recycling of waste heat: In some locations, data centers can recycle waste heat to heat nearby buildings, which can reduce the amount of energy needed to heat those buildings. Our Amsterdam data center is helping to develop a system to heat nearby communities with waste heat from the data center.

  5. Sustainable materials and construction: Green data centers use principles of sustainable design to select optimal materials and utilize careful construction practices to minimize their environmental impact. This can involve using recycled materials, implementing green building standards, and adopting sustainable design principles.

  6. Long-term viability: A sustainable data center design is not just about reducing energy consumption and environmental impact. It’s also about the long-term viability of its infrastructure. This can involve adopting strategies such as modular design and newer technologies such as edge computing, which uses smaller buildings and allows data to be processed closer to the user.

  7. Site selection: Deciding where to build a data center is also an important factor. It’s crucial to have access to renewable energy and be a good corporate citizen in terms of optimizing PUE and WUE.


What does it mean to be a carbon neutral data center?

By 2030, all of our colocation facilities worldwide will be Climate Neutral as part of our commitment as a signatory to the EU Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact. This will include the reduction of our overall emissions output to achieve net-zero, either through elimination of CO2 emissions or by purchasing credible carbon offset credits.

A carbon neutral data center implements key strategies to reduce its carbon footprint and offset any remaining emissions through various means, such as improving energy efficiency, investing in renewable energy projects, carbon-capture projects, or buying carbon credits. We have invested heavily in wind farms, and have the largest rooftop solar installation of any data center in the US at our New Jersey data center.

Data centers can offset their carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits, which are a form of carbon offsetting. The credits are generated by projects that reduce, avoid, or sequester carbon emissions, such as renewable energy projects, reforestation, or carbon capture and storage.

To become carbon neutral, a data center must first measure its carbon emissions, and then put in place strategies to reduce them as much as possible. After that, any remaining emissions can be offset by purchasing carbon credits. In addition, data centers can also offset emissions indirectly through investments in clean energy projects or by purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs).

It's important to note that, becoming carbon neutral doesn't mean the data center will not produce any carbon emissions, it means that the data center will produce no more carbon emissions than it can offset through carbon credits or other means. This is an important step of the journey while we continue to innovate carbon free solutions for difficult sources to decarbonize, like our need for diesel backup power generators that are necessary today for power resiliency.

Data center building certifications

There are different levels of data center certifications. BREEAM is the world’s leading science-based suite of validation and certification systems for sustainable built environment. Iron Mountain was the first company to construct a BREEAM design-certified data center in North America.

A LEED Gold data center is the highest level of certification that can be achieved under the LEED rating system for buildings. This type of facility has been designed, constructed, and operated to meet the highest standards of energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. This could include features such as energy-efficient cooling systems, use of renewable energy sources, and recycling of waste heat. Our data center in Boston is an example of a LEED Gold certified data center.

Iron Mountain data centers sustainability goals

As a top 30 purchaser of green power in the US, we have built strong renewable energy capabilities and continue to emphasize the importance of carbon free energy on our path to net zero emissions.

In 2021, we set a goal to go beyond our existing practice of meeting our annual data center electricity volume with 100% renewable power. We are the only global colocation provider committed to matching each hour of data center electricity consumption with locally produced clean energy, fully decarbonizing our electricity consumption every hour of every day, everywhere.

Data center sustainability is a large part of that pledge. By 2025, Iron Mountain plans to have all new construction of multi-tenant data center facilities certified to the BREEAM Green Building Standard.

By 2030, all of our data centers worldwide will be Climate Neutral. Having carbon neutral data centers is consistent with our commitment as a signatory to the EU Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact.

We are founding signatories of the United Nations 24/7 Carbon Free Energy Compact and have signed The Climate Pledge™ - committing to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris Climate Accord.

We are committed to doing what’s right both for our customers and the environment. Working together, we can create a sustainable future.