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The Future of True Sustainability: Catching the Data Center’s Elusive White Whale

The Future of True Sustainability: Catching the Data Center’s Elusive White Whale

Let’s be frank: The pursuit of sustainability — and generating successful results for net-zero dreams — has no room for patch fixes or band-aid options. We won’t deny that optimizing individual parts of the data center, whether it be in power strategies, cooling methods or otherwise, does play a part in any iterative journey toward green-ness. However, we firmly believe that true sea change only comes from a holistic, end-to-end mindset that sees the entire data center lifecycle (and the embedded carbon, emissions or waste therein) as its sustainable canvas.

So, when we consider how growing, increasingly complex hyperscale and Fortune 100 demands must align with greater efficiencies, it’s exciting to see what happens in that overlap — the nexus of innovation. Currently, the event circuit is excited to talk about new liquid technologies and cooling options (and we couldn’t agree more that water is a great place to start in the pursuit of sustainability). Especially as we look to accommodate customers’ advanced High-Performance Computing (HPC) and AI technology stacks, insights like these are green gold. Still, these individual advancements might not be telling us the whole story of today’s sustainability (or how Stream stays in the green).

How Do We Tell Sustainability’s Life Story?
To truly meet the aggressive sustainability goals that the industry is setting (and that its customers are seeking) we have to see the whole life story of embedded carbon and waste in the data center lifecycle. That means revealing the embedded carbon realities in the build process and understanding the results of IT asset decommissioning and disposal processes in the back end — plus analyzing a whole lot of room in the middle where technologies, operations and metrics meet. These are the three parts of the puzzle that everyone is looking to solve quickly and effectively.

Currently, new modalities for energy generation (like hydrogen fuel cells) are giving data centers a boost in measurements like their Renewable Energy Factor (REF), and everything from new transformers to PDUs and UPS technologies are making energy more sustainable. The adoption of EPDs (environmental product disclosures) by vendors is also offering more transparency and visibility for data center build projects, which translates into greater control over our degrees of green. Also, as mentioned, advancements in liquid cooling are helping operations become more efficient while keeping WUE (Water Usage Effectiveness) in mind.

All of these steps are undoubtedly putting us in the right direction — but pulling the disparate solutions together into a green fabric that encompasses the lifecycle of the data center is a whole different ball game. Not to mention, a lot more work on understanding and optimizing that holistic green life cycle still in process.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees
So, the question is this: How do data center operators determine their own aspirations and outline their path to those results even as the landscape of green resources is developing? It’s a catch-22 that many are looking to quickly resolve — and it’s work that certainly can’t wait for all the cards to be revealed. So, while patching and iterating is a necessary part of making strides now, architecting a master plan is the underlying framework of future success in sustainability. Understanding the synchronicities of the data center’s inner workings and how each material selection ripples outward  — for instance, how build decisions on the front end can impact emissions and carbon footprints throughout the life of operations — will make a provider’s green results a cut above. It’s all about seeing the big picture and being able to drill down into the details from there.

Planning, strategizing, taking stock and using that as a launch point for building greener portfolios and solutions is the best way to make an elusive future more certain. That’s exactly what we’re doing at Stream.

Right now, we’re in a place where we simply have to come full circle and bring together that lifecycle for analysis and innovation — putting the finishing touches on a long-term, fully optimized game plan. We’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes to accomplish a deep dive into the benchmarking and baselining of our portfolio — and of course designing our customers’ advanced sustainable futures. For now, that’s still under wraps. But trust us, there is no stone unturned (Scope 3 emissions, anyone?).

What we can say is that we’re proud to say that our data centers have had efficiency baked in right from the start — even before sustainability was our industry’s leading motivator. We’re fortunate to say that our pursuit of the very best in all facets (including our team, vendors and beyond), and the fact that we work with some of the largest and most goal-aggressive data center users in the world, set us up for success there. Our land analysis and feasibility assessments have helped us build advantages from the ground up and keep us mindful from a biodiversity standpoint. Plus, our redevelopment projects help us shave off unnecessary carbon emissions wherever possible. We’re quite practiced at reporting on waste, water, emissions and energy already — now we take the reins and push everything further.

Ultimately, sustainability in the data center is about doing what’s right, and today, we’re always being better equipped to do the right thing from beginning to end — all that’s needed is the right perspective to propel us toward our goals for the future.

To learn more about Stream’s approach to measuring and accomplishing sustainability, check out this recent article.

About Our Contributor

Stuart Lawrence

Vice President, Product Innovation & Sustainability
Stuart leads the support of client technical needs and assists the Stream design, engineering and construction team with overall site layout and design. Read More