Sustainable Data Centers and What's Next

The transition to producing more sustainable data centers is happening now. To move all stakeholders forward towards building more sustainable digital infrastructure, it takes early collaboration between all partners, working together through the entire lifecycle of a project.

In the final part of the Sustainable Data Centers Roundtable series, panelists discuss what's next for the industry, how to leverage their collective power to transition to a greener future, and ultimately provide a healthier built environment.


In Part 4 of the Strategies for Sustainable Data Centers Roundtable series, DPR Construction, Equinix, Brightworks Sustainability and Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects discuss what's next for sustainable data centers. Watch the video here.

The roundtable discussion panelists included (from left to right in the video):

Ryan Poole

Ryan Poole

Global Sustainability Leader at DPR Construction

Greg Metcalf

Greg Metcalf

Senior Director, Global Design at Equinix

Josh Hatch

Joshua Hatch

Principal at Brightworks Sustainability

Denis Blanc

Denis Blanc

Director of Sustainability at Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects

The roundtable series will be shared in four parts and will include segments covering energy, water, embodied carbon and what's next.



This discussion has been edited for clarity.

What's top of mind in the data center space for energy, water, embodied carbon—for transitioning the built environment into being a more sustainable and resilient resource?

[:13 Watch from here] Greg, as we continue to move through this data center rapid transition, making it more sustainable from an owner developer perspective, what's top of mind for you as what's next? What's the big focal point of thinking about how you take all of these different carbon metrics and everything we're doing and applying them to the goal that you have?

Greg: Operational carbon is the strongest impact that we can have, driving that down. That's continuing to drive on PUE and as liquid cooling comes to the fore, taking opportunities with liquid cooling to continue driving PUE as a result of that. Then added on, the benefit of heat recovery from liquid cooling in buildings is imperative for reducing our carbon overall. It feeds back into the master planning situation of finding opportunities with jurisdictions to find somewhere to put that heat, users of it, and having a joined up government approach to taking that heat.

As an industry we've got to move beyond the current definition of PUE to one of true compute efficiency. How many kilowatt hours to do a compute function? So that we take account of server fans. So that we take account of other in rack consumption, rather than the current model of just measuring the power going to the rack. There is stuff that happens in the rack that affects the compute efficiency.

[01:38 Watch from here] Josh, thinking about it from the consultancy space, we've talked a lot about this growth of services that have happened. [For example] needing to answer more and more questions for clients and all of our partners. As you are thinking about that, what's at the forefront of mind for you from a service and growth perspective? What is Brightworks focusing on to make sure that we're staying ahead of getting this analyzation and further development of the data to clients?

Josh: We're really excited that efficiency is continuing to make progress, that's been a drumbeat for a long time. The last number of years we've seen this explosion and an interest and progress in the renewable energy on the supply side.

One of the partnerships we're really excited about is the Infrastructure Mason's Climate Accord. We're serving right now as the executive director and we're really trying to bring that same alignment and clarity to a whole industry on how we should be measuring carbon, how we should be reporting it, how it relates to a data center, and then be able to share those tools, that clarity with reporting with other sectors, to really help us all move forward. That is something we're really excited about.

Ryan: Likewise, Josh. That's one of those organizations that's creating that collaborative space for us all to be a part of. DPR is also a part of the iMasons. It's great to get to be there in a space with people that are talking about the same subject matter and how to move the needle forward together collectively. Equinix, DPR, we all feel this way. We're not going to do it individually. We're going to need the industry to continue to collectively get on board together so that we have collective power to drive real change.

Josh: It's interesting how once you pitch the big tent, everyone wants to talk about this and solve it together. It really is creating the venue for collaboration and getting us out of how busy we are in our own walls to start making the connections.

[3:32 Watch from here] Denis, thinking about from the design community, what is forefront of mind to think about how designers can push some of these things forward? I know we have the AIA 2030 commitment, and the design community's kind of getting behind that, but what's forefront of mind at SNHA to think about how we actually move this forward?

Denis: Data is key. I believe as architects, we want to be as involved in the embodied carbon, as with operational, as possible. Using the best tools available for that. We have to know also that today we are here with Equinix, but not all clients, data center operators, are at the same level at all. We need to be able to [show them] how they can get situated with what's there already and what's coming to them, which they may not know about entirely yet or cannot fully grasp because it's new or because it's complicated. That's what we're trying to do. Integration of disciplines.

Ryan: I want to thank all of you for being here today and our viewers for listening in. It's been an incredible journey here to talk about the transition that's happening in sustainable data center spaces and really how we all play collective part in that. I think some of the things that we learned the most is that it takes collaboration, early collaboration from all of us. It takes efficient tools and resources. It takes transparency behind the data that we're getting and access to that. And it takes all of us working together and thinking through the entire lifecycle of the project and how we move manufacturers forward, how we move the design teams forward, how we move contractors forward. Ultimately, how we influence and provide support for our owners to continue to develop more sustainable data spaces.

The challenge here is for each of you and the viewer audience here to think about how you can go back to your own organizations and drive further commitment. Also you can think about the way data centers connect in your everyday life, the resources that they provide, the connection that it gives us, the access to data and the efficiency that that's driven. Collectively thinking about the decisions that you make, the behaviors that you take every day, and how that drives change down the line. Ultimately that is for us to create a healthier built environment for people and the planet.

Sustainable Data Centers

Data centers have become a cornerstone of modern life. At the same time, these facilities have traditionally had significant environmental footprints. The question is: how do we support the growth of digital infrastructure while also better managing its energy, water and carbon footprint?