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Digital Realty doubles down on sustainability with pledge to cut carbon emissions by 2030

Colocation giant Digital Realty is embarking on a 10-year, business-wide carbon emissions reduction quest, led by climate science

Digital Realty is embarking on a climate science-based 10-year carbon reduction initiative, targeted at ensuring its greenhouse gas emissions are within the levels needed to keep global warming at bay.

The colocation giant has signed up to the UN-backed Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTI), which will see it prescribed a set of sustainability goals geared to steering the company towards cutting its carbon emissions by 2030.

Specifically, Digital Realty will be tasked with reducing its carbon emissions to levels required to keep global warming well below 2°C, from pre-industrial levels.

To date, 873 companies throughout the world have signed up to SBTI, with Digital Realty understood to be the first within the colocation space to do so.

The company announced its collaboration with the SBTI during a virtual roundtable event, where the firm’s senior director of sustainability, Aaron Binkley, talked about how the partnership stands to build on the work Digital Realty has done over the past 10 years to improve the environmental friendliness of its operations.   

These include renewable energy purchase agreements, investments in improving the energy efficiency of the 267 datacentres it operates around the world, and incorporating, what it terms, “green building features” into the physical design of its facilities.

The company also relies on green bonds to finance sustainability and energy efficiency-focused projects related to its operations, and claims to have issued $3.3bn of bonds for this purpose since 2015.

“Viewed individually, these efforts are good stewardship,” said Binkley. “But taken together, they are a transformative arc in the way we conduct our business, and our new science-based carbon reduction commitment brings these together as part of the next stage in our journey.”

Digital Realty has, like many other colocation providers, seen demand for datacentre capacity surge in recent years, as enterprises look to downsize their privately run, in-house datacentres and the hyperscale cloud and internet giants look to rapidly ramp up their geographical footprint.

In response, the company has sought to expand its operations both organically and through acquisitions, including its mega-merger with fellow colocation provider Interxion.

This growth has contributed to the firm’s “energy footprint” nearly doubling over the past few years, revealed Binkley, while the volume of carbon emissions generated by its operations has declined by 15%.

While demand from enterprises and hyperscaler firms for colocation capacity looks set to continue for the foreseeable future, the onset of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has seen demand for cloud and internet services soar across the world in a fairly short amount of time.

Binkley cited this as another reason why Digital Realty had decided to double down on sustainability and accelerate its efforts to “decouple” its business growth from its carbon emissions.

He said the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic had made clear how dependent society has become on datacentres and digital infrastructure. “Many industries and economies are largely shut in, while data traffic and energy use is reaching new and all-time peaks.

“We believe now is the time to sharpen our focus on decoupling the growth of our business, and the growth of demand and datacentres, from its carbon footprint and its environmental climate change impact.”

By following the advice and goals set by the SBIT, Digital Realty will be looking to transform the way it does business in a number of different ways to achieve this, he added.

“The science-based target for us is really business-wide, [and] not just renewable energy sourcing. It’s talking to our suppliers and working with them to bring products [to us] that have a lower [embedded] carbon footprint into our new datacentre designs and our retrofits, it is looking at energy supply and water conservation, and looking at our own business operations, [including] our travel and video conferencing, and a number of other maybe smaller percentage items,” he added.

“We’re really pulling on a lot of levers over the next decade to allow us to move toward these targets.”

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