Why Sustainable Data Centers are Business Critical Today

Vice President Operations APAC at Digital Realty

As the world becomes increasingly digitized, the demand for data centers continues to grow, leading to concerns about the significant energy consumption and environmental impact of traditional data centers. Sustainable data centers are a viable solution that not only helps to reduce the carbon footprint of businesses but also offers cost savings through energy-efficient technologies. In Asia Pacific, best practices for sustainable data centers are being developed to address the unique challenges in the region. By seeking out sustainable data center options, businesses can reduce their environmental impact, improve their reputation, comply with regulations, and attract environmentally conscious stakeholders. This article aims to explore the importance of sustainable data centers and the positive impact they have on businesses, provide insights into best practices for sustainable data centers in Asia Pacific, and offer guidance on how enterprises can kick start their journey of working with sustainable data center providers.

CIO World Asia Spoke with Jon Curry Vice President Operations APAC at Digital Realty about how data centers are fighting against climate change.

New Standards for Net-Zero Claims: What’s Changing in 2023

Digital Realty is deeply committed to maintaining sustainability in our data center operations while also satisfying our clients’ digital expansion needs. To demonstrate this commitment, we became the first data center operator of our size and global reach to establish science-based carbon emissions targets in 2020. Our goals include decreasing our Scope 1 and 2 emissions (direct and indirect company emissions) by 68%, as well as our Scope 3 emissions (indirect emissions in our value chain) by 24% before 2030.

These objectives align with the recently declared SBTi Net-Zero standards, which aim to define and harmonize net-zero emissions claims while also encouraging businesses to take significant steps toward reducing their carbon footprint. The standard calls for companies to focus on deep and rapid emission cuts, with most needing to achieve at least 90% decarbonization to achieve net-zero status. Furthermore, businesses should establish both short- and long-term targets, including halving emissions by 2030 and lowering emissions to nearly zero by 2050 while balancing the reduction of emissions with the mitigation of residual emissions using carbon removals.

The SBTi standard is far-reaching, requiring businesses to go beyond their value chains and invest in climate change mitigation outside of their science-based targets while adhering to the mitigation hierarchy. The standard guarantees that net-zero pledges are of high quality, comprehensive throughout a company’s value chains, and result in near-term outcomes that align with longer-term objectives. Furthermore, independent third-party verification adds to the credibility of the results.

We are extremely proud of the progress we have made since we declared our commitment, with a global renewable energy coverage of 64% by December 2021 and the distinction of being the first data center operator to achieve 1GW IT capacity in sustainable building certifications in 2022. We are continually exploring and investing in innovative methods to bring us closer to meeting our 2030 global carbon reduction target.

The Impact of Greenwashing on Corporate Climate Pledges

Greenwashing is the act of falsely promoting the environmental benefits of a product, service, or company, which can undermine genuine efforts to promote sustainability and hinder progress towards a more sustainable future. Transparency, evidence-based claims, and consistent efforts to demonstrate accountability are essential for companies to build trust and credibility in their sustainability initiatives. Science-based targets offer a standardized and robust approach for corporations to set net-zero targets aligned with climate science and provide clarity on their climate action to stakeholders.

The Impact of Complying with Net-Zero Standards on Business Operations

The government’s increased regulations on carbon emissions have motivated businesses to take action towards achieving net-zero. This is good news as implementing sustainability practices into a company’s business plan can lead to higher profits in the long run. According to a report, 74% of APAC businesses with a formal ESG program in place reported higher profits last year compared to only 63% of firms without an ESG program.

Digital Realty, a company that provides data center solutions, takes a practical approach to sustainability by focusing on innovative solutions to progressively increase efficiency and sustainability while meeting customers’ digital expansion demands. For instance, they apply power-saving measures such as upgrading LED lighting and HVAC equipment across their facilities to optimize energy efficiency. Digital Realty uses an innovative, distributed, and redundant uninterruptible power supply design that is more energy-efficient and cost-effective than conventional infrastructure.

Digital Realty engages their customers in discussions and provides access to their proprietary Data Center Infrastructure Management system to enable them to monitor and manage their IT systems’ energy consumption in real-time at their sites. Their latest data center in Singapore, SIN12, is among the most sustainable in the region, with a PUE of 1.25. They use space- and fuel-efficient turbine generators that provide cleaner emissions and backup generation than conventional data centers.

Innovative cooling techniques, such as those being developed through partnerships with CoolestDC and the Singapore Tropical Data Centre initiative, have also proven to be effective in reducing power consumption and increasing sustainability. Digital Realty has contributed funding and technical knowledge to support the development of these solutions. At their campus in Marseille, France, Digital Realty has implemented a river-fed cooling solution that is up to 30 times more energy-efficient than traditional cooling systems, reducing power consumption by up to 18,400 MWh annually while avoiding the emission of 795 tons of CO2.

The Role of Data Centers in Organizational Infrastructure and Their Environmental Impact

In recent years, data centers have been portrayed negatively due to their energy consumption, and the undesirable perception has continued due to current world events. However, the truth is that data centers now power a significant portion of our daily lives, from financial transactions to the delivery of health and medical services, as well as the entertainment we consume. Data centers are at the core of our modern, digitized global economy, providing storage, power, and cooling to process data, and they are the foundation on which businesses, essential public services, and jobs operate.

As an industry leader, Digital Realty acknowledges its responsibility to support the needs of its global customer base while driving sustainable innovation to decarbonize the data center industry. The company is committed to minimizing its impact on the environment and working alongside customers, investors, employees, and the communities where it operates to achieve that goal. To achieve its aim, Digital Realty has set aggressive science-based carbon emissions targets, committing to reducing its Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 68% and Scope 3 emissions by 24% by 2030.

To achieve these targets, the company has examined the breadth of its business to determine where it has the most significant impact and has identified three areas of focus. These include designing and constructing more sustainable data centers that have minimal impact on the communities where they operate, finding new ways to power data centers by supporting the development of renewable energy sources, and exploring options to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and driving continuous improvement in how they operate data centers.

Digital Realty is investing in new technologies to continually improve its performance and reduce its overall environmental impact, whether through harnessing natural resources or participating in the circular economy. By concentrating its efforts and driving innovation in these crucial areas, Digital Realty is already significantly reducing its global carbon emissions and is on track to achieving its targets.

The Positive Impact of Sustainable Data Centers on Business

Sustainable data centers offer businesses several advantages compared to traditional data centers, with the most apparent benefit being a reduced environmental impact. Energy-efficient technologies are used to cut down on electricity usage, leading to significant cost savings. Such systems are also designed to last longer, reducing the need for frequent equipment upgrades and maintenance.

Data center operators such as Digital Realty contribute to reducing resource consumption by consolidating data storage needs. This results in a reduction in the amount of energy required to power and cool individual servers, freeing up land that would have been used to house smaller data centers for other purposes.

Apart from environmental and financial benefits, adopting sustainable practices is critical in growing and retaining stakeholder trust, with consumers and investors now placing a greater emphasis on environmental responsibility. Companies that invest in sustainable data centers not only enhance their brand value and reputation but also attract stakeholders willing to pay a premium for environmentally responsible products and services.

Sustainable data centers can also help businesses comply with environmental regulatory requirements. Many countries have introduced legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting the use of renewable energy sources. By reducing their carbon footprint and adopting sustainable energy sources, businesses can ensure compliance with these regulations.