The impact of data centres on climate change
Insights 5 minutes read

The impact of data centres on climate change

Data centres are becoming one of the major contributors to global emissions, but what are providers doing to minimise this?
Published on
May 25, 2021

Do data centres really cause that much impact?

Data centres are on their way to becoming one of the major contributors to global emissions but how can our actions today reduce its impact on climate change?

The story about rapper Daddy Yankee and singer Luis Fonsi’s environmental impact on the planet has been told a few times over the past few years. If you haven’t heard it, it’s about their 2018 hit song ‘Despacito’. The song was, and still is, wildly popular and it’s widely regarded as being instrumental in popularising Spanish-language pop music in the mainstream again. How does that affect the environment?

According to the European Commission-funded Eureca project, it is estimated that when the music video Despacito reached 5bn streamed YouTube views in 2018, the energy consumption for all those views was the equivalent of the energy used by Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic put together in a single year.

It’s a fun story, but there is a serious point in there. That’s one song on YouTube, think about the amount of information being shared every minute by people, small companies, enterprises and governments all around the world. Our individual and collective data usage is generating huge energy demands and the source of that energy is a big issue. The burning of fossil fuels for energy is the main driver of climate change and we have seen examples of the impacts of that change here at home in Australia. You only have to think of devastating and unprecedented bushfires that ravaged the east coast in summer 2020, the extended periods of drought in regional areas, the flash flooding and violent storms in northern Queensland, the coastal erosion in different parts of New South Wales and the unpredictability of our weather patterns in general.

Recent science-based articles publish data centre electricity consumption at 1% of the world’s consumption. By 2030, this is predicted to be as much as 8% by 2030 depending on the energy efficiencies introduced. To put that into context, the Information and Communication Technology sector including data centres is on par with the aviation industry’s emissions from fuel. That’s significant, and the demand is only going up. There are approximately 21 billion connected devices worldwide and it’s predicted by 2040, that number will increase to over 40 billion. The number is based on current trends as well as a number of emerging digital technologies such as 5G, machine learning, blockchain, and virtual reality which will raise demand for data services.

What steps are we making to help solve the problem?

As a technology company and data centre provider, the topic of energy usage and our environmental impact are always on the table. We work with a wide range of customers from multiple industry sectors and sustainability frequently arises in our discussions.

As a company, Interactive made the decision to join Renewable Energy 100 (RE100) in 2020 and we have made a firm commitment to become 100% reliant on renewable electricity by 2025. The RE100 is a global corporate initiative bringing together businesses that have decided to stop talking about climate change – or waiting for governments to move – and just get on with doing something about it themselves. RE100 members, numbering 280 as of 1 March 2021, include many of the world’s largest technology providers including Apple, Accenture, Adobe, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and SAP. Other committed global brands include the likes of Coca Cola, Ikea, BMW and many global banks.

After much investigation, we believe RE100 provides a real measure of sustainability. It’s not just a ‘tick’ against a Corporate Social Responsibility box; it’s a fully trackable, reportable and credible demonstration of a commitment to counter and even remedy climate change in the 21st century – on our own behalf, and that of our customers.

Key insight Data centres could be on course to reach 8% of world’s electricity usage in a decade so switching to renewable power to drive them can make a significant impact.

You’re probably wondering how we are planning on getting to 100% renewables by 2025, that’s a fair question. We have been advancing plans to harvest solar energy on our premises. However, we are aware that this will not entirely meet our needs for energy. We will also need to purchase electricity from renewable sources and our options there are to enter into a renewable power purchase agreement (PPA) or to purchase large-scale generation certificates (LGCs).

Increasingly, sustainability will become more critical for every business – as consumers, shareholders and environmental lobbyists judge them on their commitment to emission reduction. Ensuring sustainability across the entire supply chain is also rapidly becoming a keystone for attracting future investment. Sustainability is also important in attracting the best talent – because the majority of potential employees now factor in environmental responsibility when choosing a career and an employer.

Not only do we believe it’s the right thing to do for the planet and our future generations. It also makes sound business sense; it will position us as a Data Centre services provider of choice with businesses similarly concerned about their sustainability in the longer term.

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