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Data Centers: An Opportunity for Sustainable Digital Innovation
Opinions
23 Mar 2021

Data Centers: An Opportunity for Sustainable Digital Innovation

Max Schulze
Max Schulze

The shift of so much of our technology, communications, and data to the Cloud and the Internet has glaringly obvious benefits. More information is accessible from more places than ever before. This increased reliance on continuous computing has spurred growth across industries with easier access to powerful data. But while more companies shift to cloud-based or high-tech solutions, their positive impact is damped by the large drain on resources that data centers can precipitate.

Being mindful of the impact of digitalization

We must keep in mind the impact that digitization has on the environment as we expand our dependence on technology. To many, data centers are remote server farms or nebulous boxes that contain information and, while taking up space, have little impact (unless they lose connection). In reality, data centers are massive and widespread facilities that consume incredible amounts of resources, often lacking efficiency while offering a limited commitment to sustainability.

Data Centers are one part of the SDIA Roadmap

At the SDIA, data center impact on digital sustainable infrastructure has been an integral part of our Roadmap from the start. The recent announcement of the Climate Neutral Data Center Pact underscored the increasing awareness among data center partners and operators throughout the EU that change is needed.

Data centers, like other contributors to the value chain, consume enormous amounts of energy to keep systems online and redundant 24x7. This demand for always available power adds stress to the energy grid, since renewable energy sources such as wind or solar cannot meet this continuous need. Aside from traditional electrical energy, data centers also leverage materials that are toxic to the environment such as coolants and batteries. Water (and the energy to move and manage it) is often wasted or used inefficiently. While options for leveraging renewable energy resources (beyond PPAs and Certificated) are abundant, they are infrequently looked to as viable options.

As technology evolves, so do data centers. While the buildings themselves may remain the same from a power use standpoint, the core hardware, wiring, and supporting components are upgraded regularly to ensure optimal performance. The result can be mountains of excess physical electronic waste. An emphasis needs to be made on reuse, repair, and recycling of materials to limit how much refuse is marked for our landfills.

Innovating to solve the sustainability challenge

We firmly believe that digital innovation is powerful and essential to support our communities and commerce. The key is to responsibly evaluate the complete digital infrastructure value chain, including data centers, and take action to limit the negative impact these areas have on our environment. Sustainability is a solution, and the SDIA Roadmap outlines activities and measures that aim to promote better infrastructure without sacrificing innovation.

Explore our Roadmap to Sustainable Digital Infrastructure by 2030 for more details and to discover how you can join the Alliance.

Read the original Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact announcement.

Join the Alliance

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