The role of green data centres in the fight against climate change

A recent IPCC report warned that temperatures on our mutual home are likely to be 1.5C warmer by 2040. The news was seen as a code red for humanity and warning that a failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions could create hell on earth as we race into a period of apocalyptic climate change. Predictably, heated debates and polarised opinions dominated conversations online.

Governments pointed the finger of blame at human activity with suggestions of new carbon taxes to make it easier for homeowners to switch to greener heating systems. Others were quick to point out the hypocrisy of the Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) president Alok Sharma flying to 30 countries in 7 months without self-isolating or that 100 companies were responsible for 71 percent of global emissions.

Can countries, businesses, and consumers unite to tackle climate change?

The IPCC report offered a timely reminder to put binary thinking and division to one side and focus our collective efforts on building a more resilient future for everybody. The good news is that consumers are already driving ethical tech with their appetite for sustainably sourced goods, and big tech is racing to reduce carbon footprints, with Green AI also stepping in to help businesses rethink sustainability.

With global temperatures predicted to top 1.5C, experts warn that apocalyptic climate change is waiting on the horizon if we don't work together to stop the rot. Although hybrid working reduces the need for a daily commute, we need to talk about the elephant in the room - data consumption.

IDC predicts that global data usage will reach 163 zettabytes by 2025, which conflicts with the world's sustainable energy needs.

In addition, we are heading into a digital age where more data resides in the cloud than in on-premises data centres. But, contrary to popular opinion in the corporate world, the cloud is not someone else's data centre and problem. It remains the responsibility of every business to adopt and promote a greener infrastructure.

Greener and sustainable data centres

With rising tensions around corporate responsibility, every organization is under the spotlight. There is no avoiding the fact that networks, servers, and data storage consume unsustainable quantities of power from energy grids around the world. The environmental impact of a data centre could quickly hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and no brand wants to be on the wrong side of negative public opinion.

The usual suspects in big tech are encouraging businesses to follow their lead. For Example, Google proudly declared it has been carbon neutral since 2007. Apple also revealed its carbon-neutral pledge to cover itself and suppliers by 2030, meaning they are not adding carbon to the atmosphere. Elsewhere, Microsoft has gone a step forward by revealing its mission to become a carbon-negative company by removing more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits.

Many argue that some organizations are becoming more concerned about climate virtue signalling and saying the right things in carefully worded sustainability mission statements than taking any action.

But the message from the global community is refreshingly clear, stop trying to make it all about you. Instead, it's time to begin the melting of polarization that surrounds climate change and put our differences aside so we can unite to solve a problem that affects 7.6 billion people on this tiny planet we call home.

Collaboration is widely seen as the best way of tackling the global crisis. Every individual and business is encouraged to play their part. In tech, the European Green Digital Coalition has already signed up 26 CEOs of companies who have declared to support the Green and Digital Transformation of the EU. The climate-neutral data centre pact is also attempting to bring together data centre operators and trade associations to build a greener infrastructure.

Digital is not as green as you might think

Although it's often tempting to blame large corporations for getting us into this mess, the reality is that every individual and business will have more data tomorrow than they have today. As we all continue to generate more data, the data centres that store this information become part of the problem. Although many dropped the daily commute and overseas flights for twelve months, our new digital lifestyle of back-to-back Zoom meetings means that ICT contributes more to global greenhouse gas emissions than civil aviation.

We all reside in a data-hungry society, without questioning how much energy is required when streaming a 4K Netflix show, downloading a 100GB game, uploading holiday photos, downloading music, or sending messages. We know that these demands will continue to increase at breakneck speed. But the time to leverage technology to address climate change and return to solving real problems is now.

Businesses will soon be judged on which data centre provider or managed service they choose to work with.

Those who are transparent about actively adopting sustainable or green data centres will also attract environmentally conscious consumers. B2B companies will also be affected by partners who are seeking assurances of their commitment to sustainability.

However, we can expect users and organizations to quickly move beyond virtue signaling on their social media accounts. Thankfully, technology is now making it much easier to achieve sustainability and lower costs simultaneously. For example, AI for autonomous data center cooling and industrial control combined with the increasing adoption of green data centers are already helping to minimize the environmental impact while maintaining performance and efficiency. Some green web hosting companies also adopt practices to help the environment by reducing energy consumption or offsetting most of the CO2 produced by servers by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates.

Lowering costs, attracting new customers, and making a difference in the fight against climate change should be enough for any boardroom to measure the value of a green IT infrastructure. The path to a zero-carbon world means that it's time to finally move away from polarisation and division and ask ourselves if we are part of the problem or the solution.