More sustainability in the data center

ESG incentive

December 20, 2023, 7:30 am | Author: Dr. Gerald Berg – editorial team. Jörg Schröper

As digitization progresses, the need for data centers increases – as does the energy hunger of servers and network technology. Anyone who looks only at electricity and heat waste when it comes to data center sustainability is falling behind. Because there are still starting points for a smaller CO2 footprint.

The law on increasing energy efficiency has made it clear: data center operators must also participate in the climate-friendly transformation of the economy. Although there are already targets for 2030 at European and national level, the law aims to initiate concrete measures to achieve these targets. In addition to building construction and energy supply, suppliers of data center infrastructure should also participate in this project for society as a whole. They need to ensure that their products use fewer resources, their carbon footprint is smaller, and data center operators are supported in their efforts.

More than green electricity

The legislator focuses mainly on energy consumption and the further use of the related waste heat. According to a study by IT association Bitkom, data center performance increased by 21% from 2010 to 2020, but electricity demand increased by more than 50% to 16 billion kWh during the same period. Greenhouse gas emissions fell from a high of 7.22 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018 to 6.09 million tonnes of CO2 thanks to increased use of renewable energy.

Also, there are already numerous initiatives for the use of waste heat by data center operators, who are already in active contact with municipalities.

80 percent of greenhouse emissions come from electricity consumption during ongoing operations. This is therefore a particularly important driver for improving the CO2 footprint. However, the remaining 20 percent is also worth considering today. Not only because the goal of the transformation is a pure null scenario. But also because sustainability efforts can easily be aligned with other strategic goals and, last but not least, they can even help reduce costs, as some of the following examples show.

ESG as a competitive factor

More sustainable companies have proven in various studies to be more resilient to crises – with similar or even better profit margins – at least if the issue is truly alive and not just a green fig leaf.

ESG covers more than climate and environmental protection. In addition to Environment (E), it also includes Social (S) and Governmental (G), i.e. compliance with certain social standards and legal requirements, such as the prohibition of child labor, compliance with sanctions and non-bribery. The following points, among others, are particularly important for data center vendors:

RoHS and REACH: EU Directive 2011/65/EU defines the restriction of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (Restriction of Certain Hazardous Substances, RoHS). Hazardous substances include, for example, mercury, lead, hexavalent chromium and cadmium, as well as plasticizers and flame retardants containing bromine. RoHS is intended to help reduce the entry of such substances into the environment, but also to reduce human exposure during production, use and disposal.

Closely related to this is EU Regulation no. 1907/2006, which regulates the registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemical substances (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals, REACH). Unlike RoHS, REACH not only affects E&E products, but also their use in the manufacturing process, such as in paints and solvents, as well as their use in, for example, housings and coatings.

Manufacturers, traders and importers are responsible for RoHS and REACH compliance and providing evidence to authorities and customers. One way to help reduce hazardous substances is to change fittings to Ecobrass, a high-quality brass alloy that no longer contains toxic lead.

Conflict minerals: Under the Dodd-Frank Act (Section 1502), all listed companies in the US and their suppliers are required to demonstrate the origin of certain raw materials classified as conflict minerals from their products. In the EU, this was incorporated into local law by Regulation 2017/821. In particular, collision minerals mean tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold, also referred to as “3TG” by their English names (Tin, Tungsten, Tantalum & Gold). Their mining causes human rights violations and armed conflicts in many areas. Therefore, use is only permitted if the provenance of ores and materials is ensured along the supply chain in which the ores and materials are mined and processed responsibly.

Code of ethics: Beyond legal requirements, voluntary commitments and agreements within the company can also contribute to strengthening sustainability and social responsibility. As written instructions, they provide management and employees with guidance when making their own decisions, which increases their commitment and the likelihood of implementation. They also demonstrate customer and partner orientation – where the percentage of those who pay attention to ethical and social behavior increases.

  1. More sustainability in the data center
  2. Less plastic – better fire protection
  3. Demonstration efforts

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