Green Data Centers & Sustainability: Outlook for 2022

a gray server rack with blue, black, and white wires

Last Updated on March 30, 2022 by Josh Mahan

Data centers are powerhouses of potential. They’re also rather unfriendly to the environment and are responsible for a wealth of harmful emissions every year.

Sustainable data centers may seem like an odd phrase, but the truth of the matter is quite different.

More businesses than ever before are reevaluating their ability to meet green standards in 2022. It’s not enough to tweak a few of your business processes: you need to overhaul your company from the ground up. Have you considered reducing your brand’s carbon footprint?

We’re going to break down what constitutes a green data center and how you can improve your sustainability ventures in 2022.

The Environmental Impact of Today’s Data Centers

What makes a data center so environmentally unfriendly, anyway? Understanding the core of this issue is how you make better business decisions in the future.

The average data center is in a constant state of being repaired, improved, and recycled. There’s plenty of room to improve these day-to-day processes to whittle down waste and save money. Recent studies have found just 35% of data centers will recycle hardware in-house instead of using a third party.

Did you know data centers produce around 0.3% of all global emissions? While that may not seem like much, the growing demand for larger data centers means this number will keep increasing. Businesses around the world are becoming more scrutinizing about who they create partnerships with, so going green will save you a lot of money down the line.

Let’s take a look at the business goals you should implement for 2022 and beyond…

Goal #1: Recycle Waste More Efficiently

As we touched on above, recycling waste more efficiently is a key feature your data center should have. It’s not enough to simply throw away unwanted supplies: they need to go to the right place at the right time.

While some data centers collaborate with recycling programs to efficiently and safely dispose of waste, others simply send their trash to landfills. Less than 35% of all waste is properly composted and recycled, leaving the rest to fester in environmentally unsustainable dumps.

The most common waste tossed by data centers include (but isn’t limited to):

  • Hard drives
  • Monitors
  • Batteries
  • Laptops
  • Servers

Since many of these materials use plastic and battery power, they’re unable to biodegrade on their own. Start tallying up the monthly waste your business generates and take these figures to a waste recycling facility.

Goal #2: Clean Energy Sources

Fossil fuels are fast becoming a relic of the past. Solar, wind, hydro, and water are more affordable in the long run while causing less damage to the environment. 

Green data centers, just like any other technology-focused business, have to go the extra mile to reduce environmental damage. Ongoing studies have shown that cutting into fossil fuel emissions is an absolute must going forward. More specifically, fossil fuel consumption must be reduced by 3% every year to avoid the worst possible climate change scenarios.

Most data centers today use unsustainable energy sources such as:

  • Coal
  • Natural gas
  • Old battery systems

Wondering which businesses are putting their money where their mouth is? Apple recently released a statement showcasing the company’s commitment to cleaner energy sources. They state that, by the time 2030 rolls around, all of their products will be made with zero carbon emissions. They also will focus on recyclable materials, which will be expanded on later in this list.

Goal #3: Improving Back-Up Generators

No data center is complete without a solid backup generator system. When just one hour offline can cost thousands of dollars, it pays to be careful.

Sadly, data center backup generators aren’t always friendly to the environment. Many of them still run on coal or natural gas, spitting out harmful carbon emissions that contribute to harmful weather patterns. The good news is that backup generators can easily be switched over to more sustainable models.

Solar power isn’t the best choice for backup generators due to the sheer volume needed to maintain a data center. Wind power is proving much more promising, able to provide a reliable source of electricity through the use of wind farms. Google is just one of many major corporations making the shift away from carbon emissions.

Related: Environmental Monitoring Systems: Best Practices

When it comes to going green, consistency is key. We at Alterum Tech deliver value to businesses through hard experience and a commitment to growth.

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Goal #4: Effective Cooling Methods

Data centers are unable to run in everyday environments. While a home PC is able to hold up to a slight temperature change, data centers are far more finicky.

Effective cooling methods are a must-have change for any data center that wants to go green. The average data center uses a mixture of hot aisle containment and cold aisle containment to keep its hardware running consistently. The sheer volume of heat generated by electricity and rotating fans means overheating is a constant concern to be addressed.

Where does all this heat go? With the aid of complex cooling units, air will be circulated in and out of the data center to maintain temperature. While this is quite effective in the short term, it’s notoriously damaging to the environment. Home air conditioners are one of the biggest concerns for climate change, so you can easily imagine how data centers multiply that damage significantly.

Learning how to cool a server room properly may take time, but it’ll be well worth the effort.

Related: Server Room Temperature: Guide To Important Ranges

Goal #5: Reducing E-Waste Production

What is e-waste, anyway? Unlike traditional forms of rubbish, e-waste is a term denoting electronics that are nearing the end of their lifecycle. 

As touched on above, data centers create a unique cycle of waste that isn’t easy to recycle. Unlike food items or paper, data center e-waste is often unable to biodegrade and needs a specialized system to dispose of properly. Not only can the disposal of these products contribute to carbon emissions, but they can also harm animal and plant life.

Other forms of e-waste a data center can produce include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Cables
  • Mice
  • Cameras
  • Answering machines
  • Clocks

Related: Data Center Cabling Best Practices Guide [2021]

Goal #6: Avoid Greenwashing Habits

Going green isn’t a trend: it’s a new way of life. Some businesses struggle with this reality and resort to greenwashing, a form of marketing that makes lofty promises without hard action.

A recent study analyzing the sentiments of Gen Z found climate change to be the demographic’s number one concern about the future. This perspective superseded employment and education. Sadly, greenwashing has resulted in many buyers becoming distrustful and suspicious of businesses. Data centers are no different.

When seeking out improvements to your business model, resist the urge to overpromise and overshare. Only present the changes that have already been made and be conservative about changes that will take more time.

Goal #7: Reach Out to Qualified Businesses for Help

This second-to-last goal ties all of the previous goals together. No data center exists in a void: asking for qualified help is one of the smartest business decisions you can make.

Seek Out a Recycling Facility to Reduce E-Waste

It’s time to implement a new recycling method for your data center. Instead of shipping your unwanted materials to landfills or unverified third parties, seek out a local recycling facility.

Landfills are a major health hazard, contributing to climate emissions through either rotting or being burned. Recycling facilities have procedures and technology in place to safely dispose of plastic, glass, paper, various metals, and batteries. 

Committing to a recycling facility will help the environment and save your business money. Some recycling facilities can provide you with tax write-offs for the depreciation of recycling equipment. Check-in with your state tax requirements to see if you can take advantage of local recycling laws.

After you collaborate with a recycling facility, you can then promote your efforts through your marketing strategy:

Refine Your Marketing Strategy to Eliminate Greenwashing

Marketing is the foundation of a modern business. This resource ensures you find the right people in a timely fashion so you can remain competitive in the long term.

Marketing professionals will ensure you avoid common greenwashing pitfalls in your press releases or blogging strategy. They will provide you with essentials such as:

  • Response management
  • Press releases
  • Social media marketing strategies

Do you have a company newsletter? Consider asking your marketing professionals how to implement one and keep your customers coming back for more. Do you have a blog? Nearly 80% of bloggers today state their blog delivers strong inbound marketing results.

Your marketing strategy is a constant stream of communication between your brand and your consumer base. Honesty is the best policy!

Seek Out a New Source of Energy

Seeking out a new source of energy is one of the longest steps to implement. This change will significantly alter your data center from the ground up, but it’s worth the effort.

While solar power isn’t considered sustainable for data centers yet, wind power is showing serious promise. Do some research into sustainable energy sources in your area and learn how you can start shifting over from diesel fuel or coal.

Goal #8: Switch to Hybrid or Remote Work Models

Last but not least, your business should consider hybrid or remote work models. Data centers operate on lightning-fast information, the vast majority of which can be done digitally.

While the pandemic has sped up remote work models, it’s not the originator. Remote work has fast been rising in favor among workers for its ability to deliver more benefits for less money. Just how fast? A recent survey cited remote work growing at nearly 160%.

Benefits for the worker include (but aren’t limited to):

  • More time to spend with family and friends
  • The ability to socially distance
  • Reduced or eliminated commute

There are several remote work benefits for the tech-savvy business. Expect to enjoy:

  • Lower carbon footprint due to reducing the commute
  • Wider access to workers across the globe
  • Happier, focused worker base 

Have one-on-one discussions with your workers to see what they need to do their job best. The sooner you get comfortable with Zoom calls and email, the sooner your business can start reaping the benefits.

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Conclusion

Green data centers and sustainability can seem like a far-off dream. Not only is it incredibly time-consuming to change your business, it’s expensive and tiring.

You’ll be glad you made the change.

Green data centers are destined to become the new normal. The best place to get started with your sustainable business is to break down your current data center into reasonable goals. These sustainable goals should include:

  • Recycling waste more efficiently
  • Installing clean energy sources (such as wind or water power)
  • Swapping out old back-up generators for sustainable models
  • Implementing effective cooling methods
  • Reducing e-waste production
  • Avoid greenwashing marketing habits
  • Reach out to qualified businesses for assistance
  • Implement hybrid and remote work models

With the pandemic showing no signs of slowing down and climate change getting worse, 2022 is shaping up to be a challenge. The sooner your business starts changing toward sustainable energy and smarter marketing habits, the better.

Are you ready to give your business a chance at true sustainability? Contact us today to start improving your power, cooling, and racking infrastructure.

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