Building Better for the Future – Why Data Centre Infrastructure Must be at the Forefront of Sustainability Efforts

Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) activism and investment is reshaping the business world. 

Although ESG efforts have been championed for many years, there is a sense of urgency for decisive action from all stakeholders now, especially the corporate sector.

The impact of the global pandemic, climate-change disasters, and bolder reforms signaled at COP26 has changed how many employees, consumers, investors, suppliers, regulators, communities, and trade associations perceive value, risk, growth, cost, productivity, and more.

While Europe and North America are ESG first movers, Asia is set to catch up fast on the back of regulatory changes and investor demand, according to research released by Accenture.

ESG is vital for our business 

Progressive ESG policies are more than good optics – they are good for the environment, employees, customers and our business, because consumers and the general public have much higher expectations of companies around ESG responsibility today.

While Vertiv is elevating its focus on many important ESG topics, we are uniquely positioned to help our customers meet the Environmental part of this strategy. Regardless of the vertical that organisations operate in, environmental goals, which support efficiency and sustainability strategies, must continually keep pace with the demands of the market. Certainly, in today’s business climate, sustainability and resilience are inseparable. According to EY, businesses in emerging markets with robust ESG ratings reaped a one percent reduction in capital costs compared to laggards, highlighting that sustainability may be as important as risk management and site reliability.

Meeting sustainability targets is not without challenges, however.

Demand for data is ramping up rapidly and we saw this during the height of the pandemic. In Spain, internet traffic increased 40 percent when shutdowns were enforced. And in the U.S., Microsoft teams were deployed to work and sleep in data centres to ensure a smooth 24/7 operation of systems at peak periods.

The insatiable demand for computing power and digital services means bigger data centres. While 10 or 20 MW centres were “the norm” five years ago, they range between 100 to 200 MW today and will get bigger as energy-intensive technologies such as 5G mobile networks, artificial intelligence, and high-performance computing become mainstream.

This points to a bright and exciting future for the data industry. It also points to change because we can’t scale up like we used to. According to MIT, a single data center can consume the equivalent electricity of 50,000 homes today, and the electricity utilised by data centers accounts for about 0.3 percent of overall carbon emissions. 

Get the balance right

Providing more capacity, while using less energy and shrinking our carbon footprint, is a challenge we take in our stride, and our commitment starts at the top.

Vertiv senior leaders are driving change and our first public ESG report profiling current energy and water efficiency; diversity; equity and inclusion; employee health and safety initiatives, and plans in the pipeline, was released recently.

Serving as a foundation, or baseline upon which we can build, the report spotlights more efficient resource utilisation and the use of renewable energy as top priorities on our sustainability “to-do list,” for both Vertiv operations and our solutions portfolio.

Solid progress is being made on the technologies we offer our customers to help them meet their efficiency goals, with a new uninterruptible power supply (UPS) operating mode that safely and dynamically adapts to changes in power quality enabling operating efficiency up to 99%. 

Energy-efficient and water-free economisation systems (an alternative to water-intensive cooling systems) have also been introduced, as well as the integration of solar energy solutions into telecommunications access sites. 

We believe reducing dependence on the grid is another big step in the data center path to net-zero for Vertiv and our customers. While carbon-based energy sources will power our sites in the foreseeable future, we expect fuel cells and long-duration energy storage, and intelligent power management systems will enable the transition to locally generated renewable power to happen sooner rather than later. 

In it together 

As climate change impacts everyone, we believe collaboration is another vital driver of sustainability success. We are truly “in this together” and should learn from one another, that’s why we currently partner with thought leadership groups – EcoEdge Prime Power, Open Compute Project, European Data Centre Association, and others – to share research and best practices to enable future-ready digital infrastructures.

We want to reset the digital infrastructure playing field (and many current rules) with a holistic and collaborative game plan to build a cleaner, greener, brighter future for our industry. A future in which data centers will continue to fuel scientific advances, improve business processes, provide home entertainment, and new ways to shop and connect with the world while minimizing their impact on the planet and the communities in which they operate. 

By Tony Gaunt, Vice President, Hyperscale and Colocation, ASI, Vertiv

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