2022 Outlook: The Future of Data Center Sustainability
The data center industry’s path toward sustainability began over a decade ago. It started with the largest data center owners—Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc.—improving the efficiency of their data center facilities and others beginning to notice the efforts. Fast forward to years later, the industry’s sustainability journey has embraced clean energy procurement and carbon footprint reduction.
The efforts done and the awareness raised have laid the groundwork for the next phase of the journey—building on what has been accomplished to create a more comprehensive positive impact. What will this journey look like in 2022?
Data Center Sustainability: From Awareness to Purpose
In 2022, the data center industry’s journey toward greener practices will be more purposeful. As sustainability is shifting from luxury to inevitability, environmentally friendly actions are also shifting from reactive and regulatory to more proactive and innovative.
Keysource, the data center and critical environment specialist based in the UK, announced the key findings of a survey they had conducted in the fourth quarter of 2021. Titled The New Normal & It’s Green!, the survey involved UK IT directors and senior decision-makers in the data center industry and looked into the decisions and considerations they were making, especially concerning the pandemic and the future of sustainability. According to the survey, 80% of the respondents said they would consider making sustainable changes even without any financial benefit.
Moreover, with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors moving to the forefront, sustainable actions will be a new pillar of the industry.
The Rise of the ESG Movement
What is ESG? ESG is a part of how companies do their business. Quoting McKinsey, every business is deeply intertwined with environmental, social, and governance concerns. When we talk about the E in ESG, we talk about the energy a company takes in, the waste it discharges, the resources it needs, and the impacts they have for living beings as a result, including carbon emissions and climate change.
The ESG movement has become more than just a corporate social responsibility; it’s a global phenomenon. The United Nations initiated The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at its heart—including affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation, sustainable cities and communities, and climate action—to be completed by 2030.
As a part of the agenda, The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN specialized agency for ICTs, has established a framework called Connect 2030 which focuses on how technological advances will contribute to accelerate the achievement of the UN SDGs, including sustainability, by 2030.
This is an example that thinking and acting on ESG in a proactive way has become even more crucial. Businesses, including data center companies, are urged by their stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders) to fulfill their commitment in meeting the ESG criteria.
The Future of Green Data Centers in 2022
That leads us to believe that, in 2022, we’ll see data center companies opt for significant green initiatives. Amazon has pledged to move AWS toward a 100% renewable energy operation by 2025, announcing in 2021 the construction of 23 new wind and solar projects across the globe. Equinix announced its commitment to becoming climate-neutral by 2030 and issued over $3,7 billion in green bonds to finance their green projects. Such actions will be followed by even more data centers across the globe.
In 2022, clean energy procurement and decarbonization will still be the main focus of the data center industry. Responsible water usage and waste management will also be the center of the industry’s attention. The good news is we’ve seen a lot of progress since the start of the journey. Taking effective green actions has always come with significant challenges. However, there are methods and solutions that didn’t exist even a year ago. Some of the solutions are still not yet matured, but they’re moving quickly. This is what marks our progress toward a greener industry.
In addition, sustainable construction will be another focus of the industry. Data centers are expected to focus on sustainable construction strategies, from site selection to commissioning process. Obtaining a Green Building Certification will be critical for data centers to show that they’re constructing high-performing yet environmentally-friendly facilities.
In summary, in 2022, data centers’ green initiatives will be about purpose and not just awareness. They will no longer be reactive but proactive and will no longer be tactical but strategic.