23 Sep 2020

Sustainable Business – Collaboration and Innovation Are Essential for Net Zero

It is not every day you are invited to join the Masons, or should I say the Infrastructure Masons (iMasons); a growing global association of industry professionals and business leaders united by a passion to integrate sustainability into the lifecycle of the data centre sector. All of those involved are aiming to drive change, and in some way, define best practice and create a framework for industry transformation.

I’m proud to say that back in July, Kao Data became a Founder Partner of the iMasons UK Local Chapter, while I joined the Advisory Council and together, my team at Kao Data and I hope to work with other iMasons contributors to shape and facilitate the group’s strategic initiatives on sustainability and energy efficiency.

Today, the data centre industry is essential and provides the infrastructure underpinning the global digital economy, from stock trading, advances in science, expanding home working, to streaming video and music. As an industry we use massive amounts of energy and currently generate substantial amounts of greenhouse gases. The genie is out of the bottle, and we must not be frivolous with what we wish to achieve. Sustainability is one of our duties as responsible organisations, as such we are constantly reviewing the latest developments to devise ways to reduce our environmental footprint. And through the iMasons’ platform we will share the benefits of these to a wider data centre community.

An article on Fortune last year stated that data centres contribute 0.3% to global carbon emissions and according to Nature; the ICT sector as a whole contributes over 2%, and those numbers could increase based on current data growth.

As an industry, we need to devise a communications strategy, which demonstrates that IT is a force for positive change. That with a greater focus on responsible energy usage we can provide the technology that supports global transformation on an industrial scale, while reducing both fossil-fuel use and minimising carbon emissions from our systems and processes.

Today, Kao Data, like many data centre operators is working with the supply-chain to streamline processes, uncover more environmentally friendly alternatives and reduce waste. Our challenge and motivation are to draw these strands together in a global network, which has authority across the industry, and drive greater opportunities for change and adoption. All companies, not simply data centres, need to be encouraged to embrace technology and be innovative in changing working practices to be more efficient.

I’m glad to say that from inception, the Kao Data Campus embedded reuse, reduce, recycle into our award winning corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. Our 15-acre brownfield site provided the opportunity to design and build the first OCP-Ready™ data centre outside of North America and all key team members involved in the project had many years’ experience developing industrial-scale, energy efficient data centres in challenging conditions around the world. This tenacity, a focus on continuous innovation and a high standard of technical excellence enabled us to achieve BREEAM Excellence rating – placing us in the top 10% of buildings for best practice. Today, Kao Data is a true beacon in the UK and Europe for sustainable construction and operation.

Our first data centre in Harlow

Furthermore, as members and contributors to ASHRAE TC9.9, our team understands how regional climates create opportunities for free-air cooling and the benefits that eliminating mechanical air-conditioning provides. Such cooling systems alone can use 40% of a facilities energy, whilst cooling towers require public utility water and can use hundreds of thousands of litres per year. Understanding the impact of these technologies allow us to adopt sustainable practices that reduce energy usage and emissions, offering customers an industry-leading PUE of 1.2, at a time when, according to the Uptime Institute Survey 2020, average PUE ratings in Europe are around 1.46.

We believe that sustainability should be a core obligation in all business areas of our industry. Consumer demand is fuelling demand for our services and we must choose to make positive enhancements that benefit all our futures. We have committed to reviewing our processes, asking, ‘How can we make this even better?’ In June 2019 we deployed 100% renewable energy contracts, allowing us to shrink our carbon emissions on our power utilisation to zero. This strategy is not a new one, but one that is essential and helps indicate a direction of travel that our suppliers can connect with.

Being sustainable isn’t just about using renewable energy and then leaving it there. For example, we have electric car chargers now on-site, and we are also about to undertake the process to remove all on-site diesel fuel for our back-up generators and replacing it with non-fossil fuel HVO (hydrotreated-vegetable oil). When the Harlow campus is fully built out with four data centres it would have previously required 28 diesel powered generators, each unit requiring 13,500 litres of fuel for 24-hour emergency power generation, equating to 375,000 litres of fuel on site. This new fuel, which has only recently come to market, offers 90% reduction in GHGE and moves us a step closer toward our demanding sustainability goals, while offering customers a more energy efficient and cost-effective colocation solution, with lower total emissions.

Ultimately our industry is driven by customer demand and although the first half of 2020, may not show normal data use progression, there is only one direction data use is heading and that is sharply higher. However, most users do not connect their on-screen clicks and taps with their environmental impact and undoubtedly awareness needs to be directed in that area. iMasons is currently addressing this by working with universities on the development of an app that measures device energy consumption. This is an innovative project that should encourage all data users to be more responsible in the use of connected technology.

To get where Kao Data is today, has involved collaboration across our supply-chain, our industry and our customers. To move our industry further in this positive, sustainable direction needs a shared purpose agreed by all, so that our communication with policy makers, suppliers and customers has a defined framework on specific issue.

With the iMasons community, the data centre sector has the ability to make our views heard, to help change our industry towards more energy efficient operations and bring sustainability to the top of the agenda.

One must remember that the business benefits are many and by ensuring your organisation remains informed by the latest updates from industry associations, you can positively shape the future of your operations, both environmentally and financially.

However, the onus within the global data centre community must remain on improving efficiency and reducing energy usage and emissions, to drive more sustainable industry practices.

Paul Finch

Paul Finch is COO at Kao Data and has had a 30-year career designing, building and operating some of the world’s finest data centres.


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