In the data center industry, sustainability has become a siloed discussion focused primarily on energy efficiency. While there is no doubt energy efficiency is a key and important metric, it doesn’t tell the whole story. For long-term change to occur, the entire sustainability chain – from embodied carbon to IT components to renewable energy sources – needs to be part of the equation.
Sustainability should not be about incrementalism, but rather holistic change. When we are solving problems, it is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the problem. We can end up trying to engineer our way out of it by thinking we can find the solution at the component level. By doing this we run the risk of doing less with more – more space, more carbon, more cost and more regulation. It's time to move away from this engineering mindset in order to truly capitalise on sustainability gains.
Why? Because more and more customers are using sustainability as a criterion for vendor selection and carbon reduction will be a fundamental piece of data to win new business. According to a World Economic Forum report, 66% of survey respondents, and 75% of millennial respondents, said they consider sustainability when making a purchase. This is not just a consumer sentiment either. Businesses are realising sustainability can be an investment opportunity rather than a cost. ‘ESG Alpha’ is a concept that good sustainability practices and corporate financial performance go hand in hand. It is the idea that by adopting sustainability policies and being transparent about them, it can help a company achieve higher returns compared to the market average.
There is, however, still a cost to be had. In fact, there are multiple. The embedded cost of carbon considers the entire production process of a built asset. There are monetary costs when it comes to green levies being imposed by local or national governments. Businesses are beginning to get a grasp of the true carbon cost as they dig into their Scope 3 emissions and better understand the carbon lifecycle of their entire footprint from cradle to grave. Finally, there is the opportunity cost. What could your business do if it was running faster, smarter or cheaper?
Luckily for the data center industry, there are new technologies that are having a transformative impact and are no longer just sustainable alternatives to the status quo. Precision liquid cooling is one such technology. Servers today are designed to be air cooled. However, at a time of denser compute and data gravity, traditional air-cooling technologies are reaching their limits. Precision liquid cooling significantly reduces energy and water consumption, by up to 40% and 90% respectively. It also reduces the cost of data center design, build and operations – making a liquid cooled data center simpler, less complex and more efficient than any alternative.
The question then becomes are we ready to embrace these changes? Human nature is resistant to change, but now is not the time for incrementalism. During a global climate crisis, hard choices and swift actions are needed. Approaching these problems holistically is not only necessary but should be required. For companies willing to adopt new technologies and find a new way to do business, there is a reward. The competitive advantage is there to be had – if they are willing to embrace it.