Datacentres are a ‘soft target’ for environmental lobbyists, says CBRE

Lack of clear international standards for datacentres is allowing environmental groups to criticise the sector for its energy use

A lack of clear international standards and guidelines for datacentres is giving environmental groups an opportunity to blame the sector for its energy use, a datacentre expert from CBRE has warned.

Mark Acton, critical product director at CBRE’s recently acquired Norland Managed Services, called on UK datacentre operators and managers to get actively involved in the ongoing work to standardise the sector and shape its future legislation, or risk being caught out by new laws and penalties.

“There are also lots of competing bodies trying to occupy the datacentre space – but nobody really knows what we should be doing [in terms of standards] or which best-practice group we should be following and whose colours we should be pinning to our mast,” Acton told delegates at a seminar day hosted by fan manufacturer ebm-papst UK.

“All of this gives environmental groups the opportunity to tell us what we should be doing – and the adverse media attention is potentially very dangerous for the sector,” he warned.

According to the CBRE expert, datacentres are increasingly becoming a “soft target” for environmental lobbyists. He warned industry players to be mindful of existing legislation that datacentres could fall foul of, including being taxed for energy generation under the EU Emission Trading Scheme.

Datacentres and cloud computing are becoming a big target for Greenpeace's environmental campaigns because of their growth rate and the lack of use of sustainable energy.

In the US alone, $7.4bn a year is spent on cooling datacentres. In the UK, in the co-location sector alone, there are 217 facilities, with as many as 67 of them in London. The UK had up to 7.6 million square metres of datacentre space in 2011, according to DCD Intelligence research.

Environmental campaign groups have previously said that cloud providers operating large datacentres must step up their green IT efforts.

The cloud is driven by datacentres, which are currently overwhelmingly powered by dirty, coal-fired plants, according to Greenpeace’s 2012 report, How Clean is your Cloud?

Major operators 'stuck in the past'

In its 2014 IT energy report, Greenpeace blamed tech giants such as AWS and Twitter for not caring enough about the source of the energy they uses. Major datacentre operators, such as Amazon, Digital Realty and Twitter, are “stuck in the dirty energy past”, Greenpeace said. 

CBRE’s Acton welcomed the Climate Change Agreement (CCA) that came into effect on 1 July. Under the voluntary scheme, the UK government reduces carbon taxation for participants that achieve energy-efficiency targets.

He also urged managers to follow ISO’s work to create new standards relevant to datacentres, such as ISO 14040 on environmental management and ISO 50001 on energy management, which represent global standards for energy management.

He particularly stressed the CENELEC - ISO/IEC International Electrotechnology Commission’s new standard under development, EN50600, which aims to be a true international datacentre standard agreed by consensus and is being worked on by the British Standards Institute (BSI) as the UK's representative body.

Urging facilities managers to feed into the BSI, Acton said: “We can help design standards and legislation, yet at the minute the industry is not really aware of how to become involved.

“There is no doubt that legislation will increase – we are a soft target – as datacentres are consuming large amounts of energy and we don’t do anything that is tangibly useful (or certainly easily explained of defined), so we are going to get more legislation.

“But you need to watch this space and get involved with standards creation. By doing that, you can all help shape your own future.”

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