5 Sustainability Priorities for a ‘Greener’ Data Centre

Data Center

Given the volatile and uncertain nature of the global business landscape over this last year or so, it’s encouraging to see enterprises are taking the opportunity to re-evaluate their operating models and think imaginatively about how to do business better. While the chief priorities include building greater efficiency, flexibility, and resiliency into operations, there’s rarely a conversation I have with enterprise leaders these days where the environment and sustainability for the future aren’t given particular emphasis.

Sustainability has been given greater prominence on the corporate agenda for much of the past decade and is now front of mind across enterprise sectors. This has been boosted by ongoing news coverage around climate change, and industry-wide commitments such as ‘The Paris Agreement, leading to a groundswell of demand from customers and the public at large.

In the post-lockdown economy enterprises are embracing the opportunity to integrate sustainability into the fabric of their data centre operations, both as a business win and for the benefit of society, and to define their pathway to zero-emission computing.

5 priority areas for sustainable data centre operations

Sustainability isn’t only about taking incremental steps to reduce carbon emissions and resource consumption. It’s a mindset that permeates the organizational culture. As national and international IT organizations, we have a collective responsibility to set the benchmarks and operate in a way that creates a positive impact on workforces, society, and the environment, even as operations grow and flourish.

Enterprise decision-makers need to balance the growing demand for IT with rising expectations around environmentally responsible operations. Here are five areas of focus that can help align data centre operations with sustainability goals.

1. Reduce the resource impact of data

Data is growing at an exponential rate. While the potential utility of data makes it a powerful asset, a lack of strategy around its accumulation can quickly turn it into a liability. Currently, around 1% of global electricity is used to power data centres and as we progress towards a world where data is projected to grow to 463 exabytes of data created every day by 2025, electricity consumption could multiply rapidly.

The energy impact goes beyond just the electrical. In fact, data management can have ramifications on another key resource: water. According to a US Government report, a data centre will need on average around 1.8litres of water for every kWh consumed, predominantly for air conditioning purposes. That is a huge amount that only increases with greater data demands, meaning that companies need to start adopting processes that drastically reduce their levels of water consumption.

As part of the process of reducing resource consumption, enterprises need to consider how they manage the infrastructure that underpins their data operations. Moving from wasteful legacy IT models towards infrastructure built with energy efficiency in mind is a positive first step. For example, we recommend Liquid Cooling Technology for larger data centres to reduce energy consumption by up to 40%, whilst maintaining uncompromised performance. Plus, our Lenovo ThinkSystem products are designed to be the most efficient servers in the industry, with 16 of the top 18 SPECPower benchmark scores, and we offer software platforms like Energy Aware Runtime (EAR) to manage power consumption at a chassis level.

2. Create a circular product lifecycle

For any company involved in IT management, the notion of the circular economy has taken on greater importance. This seeks to reduce the use of materials and energy in manufacturing products and then recover as much of the end products as possible through reuse and recycling.

The data centre industry is one where many thousands of servers and other pieces of hardware are deemed to be ‘end of life’ each year. To reduce the risk of environmentally damaging waste, the industry needs to set a high bar in terms of recycling, reusing or repairing 100% of equipment stopping it from ending up as landfill.

In our operations, we practice a ‘Design-Use-Return’ model to cover everything from products and packaging, manufacturing and operations and product take-back and value recovery. This includes services such as Lenovo ARS, which ensures responsible asset recovery and data disposal.

This mentality extends to the packaging we use as we strive to utilise recycled materials and eliminate plastic. By adopting more sustainable materials such as sugar cane and bamboo, while continually uncovering holistic opportunities for increased sustainability across packaging, we look to create a circular product lifestyle. Embracing this approach has led us to move away from plastic packaging, in turn eliminating over 3,100 tons of plastic waste since 2008.

3. Set aggressive targets

Becoming a sustainable business requires accountability. This can be done by putting your reputation at stake, holding yourself to high standards and making that commitment to stakeholders. Once you publicly set your targets, there’s no backing away. We discovered the success of this approach more than a decade ago, setting the 2020 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% – a target we surpassed through a 92% reduction. We’ve now set our sights on a further 50% reduction by 2030.

Another way of achieving this is to commit to industry-recognised sustainability initiatives. These initiatives help to raise the bar for all organisations and encourage those that commit to review and adapt their operations in line with their obligations.

We recently signed up to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), the first ever science-based Net-Zero Standard for emissions reduction which will combat the current inconsistencies that surround net-zero targets and enable consistent measurement and evaluation of a company’s emissions reduction.

4. Put measurement in place to track progress

The data centre may be the backbone to our IT infrastructure but the energy consumption is reportedly increasing 12% annually. So, it’s crucial for companies to demand greater efficiency from how data centres are powered.

Given that data centre operations can often dominate all IT energy consumption, it’s vital for today’s enterprises to get measurement under control. The range of metrics that can be tracked, such as water usage, electric consumption and use of renewable energy, offer wide avenues for energy savings. Understanding how you’re measuring environmental efforts and what metrics you need to see moving in the right direction will help to show whether you are really making progress.

At Lenovo we issue an annual report for ESG (Environmental, Societal and Governance) that ensures we are tracking our goals, meeting our climate-change mitigation targets and generally measuring what matters most for the business and for society as a whole.

5. Optimise your supply chain

Supply chain has been a major global focus over recent times, and data centres, like any other complex structure, are dependent upon strong supply chains. Equipment failures rely on robust supply chain management to replenish inventories.

These considerations are not only important from a business continuity perspective, but also in ensuring energy efficient logistics and in reducing the risk of wasted energy due to unanticipated downtime. Companies are looking to their supply chains to drive sustainability to cut costs, strengthen business and mitigate environmental risks. This includes incorporating transport methods such as trains in place of planes and reducing the distance that products travel along a supply chain. By distributing production to more local facilities, such as we have done with our new factory near Budapest in Hungary, companies can cut the number of steps and dependencies required to get the product from factory to customer and lower the fuel consumption required as a result.

We’ve used this localised supply approach across our global network. We are active in 180 markets, shipping over 1 billion devices through more than 2000 suppliers globally. The control we have over our supply chain enables us to enact a comprehensive sustainability approach and allows us to take steps proactively to optimise operations and reduce the environmental impact. As a result, Gartner ranked us as 16th in global supply chains earlier this year.

Taking responsibility

We try to embrace a sustainability-first approach across Lenovo’s global operations. Our ethos of Smarter technology for All innately incorporates greener technology for all. Our endeavour is to build a better future where smarter technology continues to empower everyone, and that aim cannot be realised without making a positive impact on society and our planet.

We recognise our responsibility to the environment and encourage and support all our customers, partners and stakeholders we work with to do the same. In taking a holistic view of sustainability, we recognise that there’s not one area or strategy that’s going to deliver the wide-ranging reduction in carbon emissions we seek. It’s also a constant process for improvement – it covers everything we do and is important for our business and everyone we work with.

For more information, check out the Lenovo webinars on “Supply Chain & Manufacturing- Greener Technology for All” and “Energy Efficient IT, ‘Green’ Datacenter Infrastructure.