Sustainable Data Centers: From Forward-Thinking to Critical Necessity


A company’s sustainability practices, once seen as a social responsibility issue, has taken on a heightened role and evolved into a key component in business strategy in the global economy. This is especially true in Data Centers.

With the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, reliance on mobile devices, streaming services and cloud-based solutions, the world is creating data (and the need for processing and storage) at an ever-accelerating rate. IDC’s Data Age report forecast that the amount of Global Data that will likely be created by 2025 could be 175 zettabytes.

According to their report, if you stored 175 zettabytes on DVDs, the stack would be long enough to circle Earth 222 times. If you attempted to download 175 zettabytes at average current internet speeds, it would take you 1.8 billion years. Even if you enlisted every person in the world to help, it would still take 81 days.

More technology = more environmental impact

Demand for data solutions has created exponential growth in data centers that, as a group, use tremendous amounts of energy and water to power and cool. In fact, data centers contribute to 45 percent of the industrial use of clean water. If this trend continues, data centers may use as much as 13 percent of global electricity in 2030, compared to one percent in 2010.

It turns out that data has a sizable carbon footprint and data center sustainability has become a significant priority. According to the United Nations’ Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative, the information & communications technology (ICT) sector, powered largely by data centers, contributes the same amount of greenhouse gases as the aviation sector does from fuel.

New improvements to reduce data’s carbon footprint

Efficient design and engineering, along with building automation, smart sensors and controls, have helped to improve data center Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). We have seen PUE figures drop dramatically in the last few years from 1.5 to 1.1 ratio in some cases as cooling technology upgrades and airflow optimization contribute to a more sustainable environment.

Many Data Center operators are adding clean, renewable energy as an important component of their sustainability plans, site selection and as a way to offset the environmental impact of their sites and reduce carbon emissions significantly.

Innovations such as installing chips in servers that help improve the PUE, water-cooled servers or locating data centers in colder environments are emerging as solutions for even higher efficiencies.

Fixing existing data centers

The retrofitting of existing data centers will lead to further efficiencies—as much as 50 percent of existing data centers could be considered "last generation" and far less efficient than new or retrofitted data centers built to current and emerging standards.

While the mandate of sustainability has shifted more towards social responsibility to improve brand image and customer loyalty, tangible benefits to business operations including lower costs while maintaining consistent performance can be achieved at the same time.

Read Cushman & Wakefield’s robust Sustainability Policy here and contact us today for more information on our services.

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