The number of people who can accurately describe a data center is close to zero. Whereas the number of people who can identify an aeroplane is close to 100%. So it was an interesting exercise by Nyree Scales from Data Economy to mingle amongst the Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists and survey them about their knowledge of data center impact on climate change. Bearing in mind that 50% of people might lie in surveys so as not to look stupid or out of touch, one has to take the results with a pinch of salt. Almost 80% of XR activists are sure they know what a data center is (good), although 60% of those haven’t noticed any sustainability efforts in the industry (bad). So the informal results are in: half of XR climate activists know about data centers and sustainability and half don’t. OK.

I suspect a bit of further questioning by Nyree would have revealed a shaky grasp on the definition of a data center, but the point is well made. Beyond activists, once the public at large get that data centers are already impacting the climate at the same rate as aviation there will be trouble. Once they understand that data centers are forecast to consume ~10%+ of global electricity by 2030 they will demand to know whether data center companies have been helping or harming the efforts to get to net zero. The zoomers will show little mercy on the unconvincing.

Now is not the time for being found asleep at the wheel. “Purchase certificates, claim carbon neutral” was acceptable 10 years ago. For the 2020’s we need a new lifetime approach to sustainability for data centers encompassing site selection, design and build methods, land, energy and water use, circular use of resources, materials and IT, and, most importantly overall societal value.

I really like the triple bottom line framework proposed by Susanna Kass and Alberto Ravagni for sustainable data centers. If you aren’t familiar with Susanna’s work, she is one of the world’s leading experts on data center sustainability. We were delighted to host a visit by Susanna a few weeks ago. Today we are thrilled she has included our home location of Boden as the primary example of how the data center industry can get this triple bottom line in place. 

“To achieve a triple bottom line through a Life Cycle Analysis approach we must design and build data centers which go beyond the status quo metrics to include the minimization of resource utilization of land and water, to eliminate harmful emissions and waste, and to promote synergic interaction with the local community. Boden, Sweden is the site chosen by the authors to illustrate this idea.” Susanna Kass, December 2019

More to follow on this subject. #datacenter #sustainability #infrastructure #netzero

Short version first published on LinkedIn

About Hydro66

H66 owns and operates an award-winning ultra-low emissions cloud infrastructure data center in Sweden. We deliver flexible cloud compute and colocation, store and backup services to all sizes of organisations utilizing low cost 100% green power within an ISO27001 and OCP accredited facility