If you’re a managed service provider (MSP) with a data center footprint, be advised: Going green is table stakes.

Carsten Baumann, director of strategic initiatives for Schneider Electric, said sustainability is now top of mind for companies when building out their IT infrastructure. This includes data centers and edge computing equipment. “Sustainability is no longer a ‘nice to have,’ but it’s transforming more into a ‘must have.’”

Sustainability boils down to two things, he said at the recently held infra/STRUCTURE presented by Structure Research in downtown Toronto. “It’s responsibility and value.” Like broader discussions around the environment, the technology industry bears responsibility for what it does to the planet and the quality of life for future generations.

“It’s everybody’s responsibility. We have to all collectively work on it,” Baumann said. That includes changes to how data centers are designed, built, and operated. With 2030 being a target year to become carbon neutral for many jurisdictions and industries, the current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions needs to be reversed by 45%.

He acknowledges that not everyone believes global warming is a threat, but that’s where value comes into play — sustainability has a clear business value for today’s organizations. “There’s clear evidence when you look at publicly traded companies who are concerning themselves with sustainability, including what Schneider Electric does. We are outperforming our competitors who are not.”

Baumann said organizations with a sustainability focus have access to cheaper debt to finance initiatives and opportunities to build relationships to source renewable energy from wind and solar farms.

Improving ESG Initiatives with Sustainable Data Centers

Designing more sustainable data centers falls under the broader move toward better managing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks. Research by KPMG shows that companies are taking sincere initiatives to measure and minimize environmentally unfriendly operations and that sustainable business practices are considered a corporate obligation.

In the engineering world of data center design and operation, the concern is with the environmental part of ESG, focusing greenhouse gas emissions, pollutants, climate risk, and water efficiency, Baumann said. But sustainability under ESG is not just about how these facilities are built and operated on their own but also about any sourcing. Suppliers should also have a strong commitment to their environmental obligations. Sustainability even could be extended to how you power backup generators and account for the fossil fuels burned to transport a technician from one site to another. “That’s scope one — everything directly related to the operation of that data center,” he said.

Enterprises Search for Sustainable Partners

Josh Rayner, VP of sales for Hut 8 Mining, said enterprises are demanding sustainability. “They love a story that this data center is powered by renewables. That’s going to change where data centers sit.”

Hitting long-term sustainability targets must recognize the interconnections between many suppliers, which Baumann admits is complicated given the current challenges faced by global supply chains. Regardless, transparency is vital, so Schneider publishes a quarterly scorecard as part of its commitment to sustainability. It offers a breakdown of everything from materials in electronics to water and electricity usage, including usage in manufacturing.

A key challenge for data center operators today, including MSPs, is that they’re likely using a diesel-powered generator for backup. Baumann said that means you must consider the lifespan of this equipment when looking at hitting overall sustainability targets. For example, if you designed a data center today with a diesel generator, and it goes live in 2023, you need to ask how long the generator will be in operation. Alternatives might include a natural gas generator or lithium-ion batteries, among others, all with their own carbon footprints, including how they are manufactured.

Energy falls under scope two, said Baumann. A data center powered by hydroelectricity generated in Quebec is greener than one in Virginia, where electricity is powered by coal. Ultimately, the entire supply chain plays a role in sustainability.

As a supplier, Schneider has its own goal for its operations to hit net zero without any offsets by 2030. Baumann said the company wants its own suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint by 50% by 2030. “We help them on that journey, and we audit them.”

Longer term, Rayner sees sites powered by natural gas as less attractive than those powered by hydroelectric or solar, and that shift will be driven by enterprise customers. “Enterprises will change the market.”

Because greener IT is top of mind for customers, it’s not only an opportunity for MSPs to reduce their carbon footprint but also become a resource for organizations that want to be more sustainable. According to recent research from McKinsey, enterprise technology accounts for about 1% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is the equivalent of the total carbon emitted by the United Kingdom.

MSPs could help by migrating workloads away from on-premise infrastructure to ultra-efficient data centers with a power usage effectiveness (PUE) equal to or less than 1.10, compared with the average PUE of 1.57 for an on-premise data center. McKinsey recommends that companies institutionalize a green ROI metric as an element in IT decision-making, including in requests for proposal (RFP). This will enable them to better understand their technology’s impact on carbon emissions.

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