Data Center Action Beats Heated Arguments About Sustainability

Conservation, greater efficiency, but above all, renewable and recyclable sources, trump inaction

Michiel Eielts
Data Center Action Beats Heated Arguments About Sustainability

The past decade has seen the growth of global data traffic accelerate at an unprecedented rate. A huge increase in the number of connected devices and a concerted effort from businesses around the world to utilize automated ways of working, have contributed to this global data surge. These are trends that are only set to grow as enterprises globally rearchitect their IT framework, to fully embrace the ‘digital age’ that we are living in. While this signifies huge progress for the global economy, it places strain on existing digital infrastructures and poses a new challenge for data center operators (and their customers) looking to minimize their carbon footprint.

At Equinix, we believe our position as a global leader in the data center and colocation space, means we have a duty to show leadership in creatively tackling the single biggest issue our industry faces – minimizing the environmental impact of digital progress. This means acting as an exemplar for the data center industry, through trialing and implementing forward-thinking technology, and designing and retrofitting all our data centers, both new and acquired, with cutting-edge sustainable technology.

But it’s important to remember that making progress on environmental sustainability is not just about social responsibility – it’s fundamental to business success. Since the Paris Climate agreement was signed in 2016, there has been a noticeable shift in the number of our customers asking how they can better use resources to cut CO2 emissions.

The importance of leadership

Since the early 2000s, energy efficiency has underpinned our entire design strategy. Our data centers are all built to global environmental standards, and we take great care in our choice of building materials and the energy efficiency of the components in all our data centers. These conscientious design practices have contributed to 22% of our global colocation footprint being covered by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation. Achieving these esteemed credentials complements our long-term sustainability goal of reducing CO2 emissions and powering our entire portfolio on clean and renewable energy – a commitment referred to by Greenpeace as ”a giant step forward for building a renewably powered internet”.

The results show that this initiative is working. Our investments in sustainability have helped us avoid producing 430,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions – the equivalent of 90,000 cars on the road for one year. This has been achieved through several methods, one of which is monitoring our monthly Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) by site, around the world, to look for new opportunities to save energy. Our market-based carbon footprint has also declined by 71% since 2015, due to expanded global purchasing of renewable energy.

How do we do it?

Sustainability underpins everything we do as a company – we are constantly looking at new and innovative measures we can implement to improve our carbon footprint. Our data center campus in Amsterdam is a prime example of sustainability in action. The entire campus, which contains both new and retrofitted data centers, runs on 100% renewable energy. Each data center also has market-leading sustainability innovations deployed throughout.

Retrofitting an existing data center and developing new and advanced technologies to make them more sustainable, poses a different set of challenges to designing a green data center and building it from the ground up. When retrofitting a data center, the design expertise comes in knowing how to deploy solutions effectively within the confines of the existing infrastructure and the physical footprint that is available.

Our AM3 data center in Amsterdam, launched in 2012, is an example of how sustainable measures can be designed and build into adata center to make it future-proof. AM3 relies on free-air cooling until the temperature hits 64 degrees Fahrenheit – then it cools the data center using hybrid cooling towers and water drawn from a cold well about 170 meters underground. The heat that’s removed from the building is transferred into the water, which is then used in the central heating system for one of the nearby University of Amsterdam buildings. When introduced, this was a truly revolutionary piece of technological innovation and it proved to be so successful that we are now looking at providing heat to residential areas near our newer AM4 and AM9 facilities.

But sometimes simple measures can have a big effect too: AM3’s rooftops are covered with plants and vegetation which recycle CO2, help to lower cooling costs and prevent storm-water runoff from polluting local water sources. Rooftop photovoltaic solar systems also supplement power from the local grid.

Implementing market-leading technology such as this has helped to make our Amsterdam data center campus class-leading, by running on a PUE of about 1.2. It’s a real challenge to get any lower than this – but that doesn’t mean we won’t keep trying!

We’ve come a long way, with a long way to go

Making progress on environmental sustainability requires out of the box thinking, investment and a great deal of effort and persistence. But, thanks to a concerted effort from the major players across the data center industry, clean energy resources are being deployed at a much faster rate than traditional fossil fuel sources, going some way towards alleviating the environmental impact of digital progress.

Since 2011, we have invested over $110m in energy efficiency upgrades and retrofits, and this year we are likely to invest more than $48m in sustainability measures, above and beyond what we’re investing in new and expanding sites. Building robust data centers that not only tackle the pressing sustainability needs of today, but prepare for the increased data and power demands of the future, will be critical to the long-term success of our industry.

Learn more about how Equinix is championing sustainability in the industry by visiting our interactive sustainability report website .

You may also be interested in reading our previous corporate sustainability blog post covering our environmental, social and governance initiatives.


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