Environmental Footprint of Datacenters

April 1, 2022 – Reading Time: 8-10 minutes

Data centers consume a significant amount of energy, accounting for roughly 1.8 % of total electricity consumption in the United States. Data centers are responsible for about 0.5 % of total US greenhouse gas emissions.


Areas of Environmental Impact in Datacenters

Digital Technologies have become increasingly vital in our daily lives, particularly during pandemics, because they have reduced distances and enabled activities that would otherwise be impossible, such as remote work. All of this, however, comes at a cost, which may be expressed in a variety of currencies. Environmental sustainability is one of them.

Datacenters are one of the most important digital ecosystems that have significant environmental consequences. In April of this year, it was projected that datacenters utilized more than 2% of the world's electricity and produced the same amount of carbon emissions as the global aviation sector (in terms of fuel consumption).

Furthermore, data centers absorb around half of all energy consumed by digital ecosystems. Personal devices account for another 34%, while the sectors that manufacture them account for 16%. And the higher the environmental repercussions, the more technologies that arise. For example, according to a paper published by academics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, training an Artificial Intelligence system can produce five times as much carbon as driving a car (including fuel) over the course of a lifetime.

Environmental Footprint of Datacenters

Data centers must either be built in a country with a naturally cold climate or be housed in a temperature-controlled environment that is maintained at all times in order to function.

In terms of the latter, research have found that equipment designed to keep things cool consumes roughly 40% of the overall energy consumed by data centers. If the natural environment of the data center is warmer, this figure rises to a whopping 80 %.

Is it therefore the solution to relocate all of the world's data centers to colder climates? Obviously, such a work would be difficult, but it is believed that it would help reduce emissions.

In 2009, Google established a data center in Hamina, Finland, to test the notion. Since then, the internet behemoth has invested an additional €600 million to boost its environmental credentials. The company is now entirely powered by renewable energy.

Google, for example, has been consuming 50% less energy than the industry average because to evaporative cooling solutions, smart temperature and lighting controls, and custom-built servers that are designed to consume as little energy as possible. Data centers also have an environmental impact that isn't restricted to their power use.

Coolants used to avoid overheating are frequently manufactured of dangerous chemicals, and data center battery backups (which are required in the event of a power outage) can also have a negative impact on the environment owing to unsustainable mining and irresponsible battery disposal.

How Renewable Energy and Green IT reduce Environmental Impact?

"Going Green" is a growing movement that is quickly establishing itself as the favored method of saving the environment. This is now evident in many facets of our lives, including recycling, energy-efficient electronics, renewable energy sources, environmentally friendly automobiles, and green structures.

Under the concept of "Green Computing," computing has also established its role in helping to save the environment. Green computing is the ecologically responsible and eco-friendly use of computers and their resources. It's the study of how to design, engineer, manufacture, utilize, and dispose of computing systems in a low-impact manner in a larger sense. Green Computing, also known as Green Technology or Green IT, has moved to the top of the technology utilization rankings in recent years.

One of the most energy-intensive industries is the digital one. It accounts for 2.3 % of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, with 34 billion pieces of equipment, over 4 billion users, network infrastructures, and data centers.

Data centers account for 1% of global electricity use and 0.5 % of CO2 emissions, according to the World Resources Institute.

Between 2010 and 2018, their performance improved. According to a study, storage capacity has increased 25-fold, network traffic has increased 10-fold, and compute volume has surged 550 %. This resulted in a 6% increase in energy use.

Even if this rise is offset by the exponential growth in the amount of data transferred and stored, we must continue to work to ensure that data centers are part of a more virtuous and ecologically beneficial cycle.

Reduce Cooling Power Usage by innovating with a Positive Design

Heat is generated by computer equipment. Air conditioning accounts for half of a data center's electricity consumption on average. Thermal containment, which allows the temperature to be distributed evenly; direct free cooling, which uses outside air directly to cool the computer rooms; and the use of modular data centers to add modules according to consumption needs are all solutions that can be integrated from the infrastructure design stage. This fourth approach, which is both flexible and cost-effective, improves the PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness), or the ratio of electricity utilized by the data center to that consumed by its equipment.

In terms of Standards, Key Indications, and Power Quality, Mastering the Fundamentals is Essential

It is critical to strive for continuous improvement, follow-up, and commitment in order to lessen environmental effect. This includes adhering to environmental regulations. Four standards stand out for the data center industry: ISO 14001, which assesses and controls the impact of activities on the environment; ISO 50001, which addresses energy management; the Code of Conduct for Data Centers, which aims to improve energy efficiency; and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which is a system for standardizing high-quality buildings.

Monitoring and performance metrics such as energy and water consumption, as well as the quantity of trash generated by each data center, should be defined to optimize the data center's energy effect.

Power quality is also an important consideration to which special attention should be paid. The majority of the electricity must be produced domestically and certified as renewable, or at the very least, the electricity consumed by the Data Centers must correspond to 100 percent renewable electricity pumped into the electricity supplier's grid.

Using a Worldwide Technique of measurement and Life Cycle Analysis, Improve the Environmental Performance of its Datacenter

Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software is required to continuously monitor important environmental performance indicators, feed internal data, and intelligently manage resources in accordance with objectives.

With indicators for energy and water usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and natural resource use, DATA4's D4 Smart DC solution delivers real-time visibility of the environmental impact of its hosting space and IT equipment. The Smart DC solution's goal is to allow the colocation service provider to track the environmental impact of its infrastructure while also allowing consumers to track the impact of their IT equipment.


Finally, any data center operator that wishes to provide its clients with a true decision-making tool for better risk management and anticipation, as well as for optimizing resources by identifying those that are over- or under-utilized, must implement an advanced management system.

By 2025, the global population will have grown by 1.1 billion people, energy consumption will have increased by 2.9, electricity consumption by 2.7, and greenhouse gas emissions will have increased by 3.1. (World Digital Footprint Study). It is critical for the data center industry as a whole to do everything necessary to minimize and control these increases by implementing the three best practises listed above.