Going green: How to build a reliable, resilient and responsible digital infrastructure

In this guest post, David Watkins, solutions director for West London-based colocation provider, Virtus Data Centres outlines the actions that datacentre operators need to take to avoid accusations of greenwashing. 

In all sectors, going green has become a pressing business imperative. Simply put, more and more people want to conduct their business with companies that are sustainable, and that take their environmental responsibilities seriously – not least in the power-hungry datacentre industry. Add to this a growing number of mandatory green targets and it’s no surprise that sustainability is now top of the agenda for datacentre providers all over the world.

So how can data centre providers meet these objectives?

Beware of greenwashing

Many providers now talk about being “green” as a competitive advantage – with pledges and claims plastered all over their marketing material. But, without a uniform and consistent application of standardised measurements, claims of sustainability could be unsubstantiated or misinterpreted. Or even worse, companies could be accused of “greenwashing” – using green claims as a good PR tactic, without really committing to changing anything.

All this means that it’s no longer enough for providers to claim to be “green” – they must prove they are too. Checks and measures will be the order of the day for the year ahead and the good news is that there are plenty accreditations and standards which providers can ascribe to enabling them to interrogate and track progress.

For example, when it comes to the built environment, Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (or BREEAM) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) are rating schemes which providers should adhere to. And even better, these standards look at being green in a holistic way – considering the entire lifecycle of a building, from the concept and design to construction, operation and maintenance.

Standards can help too – specifically ISO 50001 for Energy Management and ISO 14001 for Environmental Management. Using these standards, providers benefit from a clear framework, allowing data centre providers to measure their effectiveness against green ambitions on an ongoing basis – and importantly, be accountable for what they do.

Why environmental responsibility goes hand in hand with reliability and performance

For many industry commentators, the question is how can datacentre providers balance the need to be green, with the requirement to provide a reliable and resilient service?

The truth is these commitments actually go hand-in-hand. A sustainable datacentre is also often a high performing and reliable facility. For example, renewable energy sources are fast becoming seen as more reliable than fossil fuels – not least, because renewable energy is not reliant on a single source, but from several – such as wind, solar, hydro and biomass. What’s more, renewable energy can be more resilient in cases of falling demand and economic decline – crucial as we traverse through an uncertain political and economic landscape.

There are also plenty of funding opportunities for green initiatives within the industry – not least from the EU Commission which has made five billion pounds available for organisations boosting their green credentials. All this means that being green isn’t just the right thing to do, it is also a cost effective exercise, and one which can bring significant commercial advantages. 

An evolving landscape

So the future is bright for datacentre providers and their sustainability ambitions. It’s great news that the industry is now moving far beyond efficiency benchmarking as a PR exercise and away from “greenwashing” and “green-hushing” which once blighted the sector.

This year is heralding a new era of transparency where organisations are more robustly backing up their sustainability claims and building them into broader strategies. And it’s no exaggeration to say that these strategies are make or break for data centre providers – a solid sustainability strategy is no longer “nice to have” but a business imperative.

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