Data Centers are Greener Than You Think, in Europe and Elsewhere

Energy efficiency + economies of scale = more sustainable outcomes

Michael Winterson

There’s no doubt that sustainability is now a priority for businesses across the globe. Today, 86% of S&P 500 companies publish sustainability reports, and 6 in 10 office workers globally agree that sustainability is no longer a nice to have, it’s a need to have.[i] Moreover, companies that uphold high standards for environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors are consistently outperforming the market and outlasting those who don’t, by nearly double the lifespan.[ii]

Sustainability at Equinix

Equinix is proud to approach our sustainability efforts in the same agile way we solve our customers’ business challenges and are committed to a path of long-term sustainable growth.

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1%

Of all electricity consumed globally was by data centers in 2018 – the same share as 2010. Despite the fact that workloads have grown by 5x.

Europe is leading the world in sustainability

On a regional basis, Europe is ahead of the game when it comes to sustainability. Morningstar’s Sustainability Atlas shows that Europe is home to the most sustainable countries and European companies comprise nearly half of the Corporate Knights Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies.[iii] A big part of the difference may be Europe’s regulatory environment as the European Union (EU) has long been considered to have the most stringent environmental policies of any international organization. And the European Green Deal, released late last year, is upping the ante – all EU countries must be 100% climate neutral by 2050 and reach a 50% target by 2030. As part of the new Green Deal, Europe is also asking the data center industry to become carbon neutral by 2030, twenty years earlier than other industries.[iv]

Data centers are already greener than you think

So how do data centers line up with respect to these targets? As the purveyors of the rapidly expanding digital economy, all eyes are on data centers with respect to environmental responsibility. A common misperception is that data centers need to use more energy to support the ever-growing explosion in data, but the opposite is true. In 2018, data centers accounted for about one percent of all electricity consumed globally – the same share they consumed in 2010. And that’s despite the fact that the amount of computing done in data centers has more than quintupled between 2010 and 2018.[v] The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects that trend to continue as the IT industry maintains its focus on improving energy efficiency (chart below).

Global trends in internet traffic, data center workloads and data center energy use, 2015-2021

Source: IEA

Digitization drives more sustainable outcomes

Data centers are also supporting the digitization of the modern world, which is driving more sustainable outcomes. While it is not measurable as a direct data center benefit, the carbon footprint of digital products and services is much less than their physical counterparts. For example, an email has a smaller footprint than mailing a letter and downloading an album is more energy efficient than buying a disc. Looking at the transport industry, an IEA report found that applying digital solutions to truck operations and logistics could reduce road freight’s energy use by 20-25%.[vi]

All EU countries must be 100% carbon neutral by 2050 and data centers are being asked to reach this target by 2030.

Economies of scale drive more sustainable outcomes

Large data center operators (be they colocation, managed services, networks or cloud) have the economies of scale to apply best practices and drive energy efficiencies across their footprint much faster than small, individual enterprise data centers could achieve on their own. Larger scale also means greater purchasing power when it comes to advancing renewable energy. Taking Equinix as an example, our global reach, scale and buying power have enabled us to:

  • Invest over $100 million in energy efficiency upgrades, retrofits and improvements since 2011, which helped us avoid 1.1 million megawatts (MWh) and 430,000 metric tons in carbon emissions over the same time period.
  • Purchase renewable energy for 160+ (out of 200+) Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data centers.
  • Cover over 90% of our worldwide energy consumption with renewable energy. In EMEA, we’ve covered over 95%.
  • Deploy cutting edge innovations in our data centers that benefit all our customers such as machine learning to identify new energy efficiencies.IBX SmartViewTM, our real-time data center infrastructure monitoring (DCIM) software, helps customers make better decisions to improve their energy efficiency.

All of these innovations benefit our customers, enabling them to become greener faster and more efficiently than they could on their own.

A look at sustainability in our European data centers

Equinix is committed to supporting sustainable digital growth in the European market. Here’s a look at the some of the sustainability initiatives in our European IBX data centers.

  • Green rooftops in our AmsterdamZurich and Paris IBX data centers help reduce power consumption and prevent storm water runoff.
  • Aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES) in our Amsterdam IBX data centers (AM3, 4, 5 and 6) uses cold groundwater instead of refrigeration to lower the air temperature.
  • Free air cooling leverages naturally cool air or water instead of refrigeration to lower air temperature and cold aisle containment (CAC) helps to ensure the cold air stays in and the hot air stays out.
  • Solar panels in our London and Amsterdam IBX data centers provide an additional renewable energy source.
  • Heat capture in our Amsterdam, Stockholm and Helsinki (HE2, 3 and 4) IBX data centers reuse excess heat for commercial or domestic heating where possible.

Green rooftop at Equinix’s PA8 IBX in Paris

Learn more about what Equinix is doing with environmental innovation and responsibility in our interactive sustainability report.

You may also be interested in reading our previous blog posts on sustainability and green initiatives.

[i]Governance & Accountability Institute (G&A), FLASH REPORT: 86% of S&P 500 Index® Companies Publish Sustainability / Responsibility Reports in 2018, May 2019; HP, HP Workforce Sustainability Survey

Global Insights Report, April 2019.

[ii]The Motley Fool, Does ESG Investing Produce Better Stock Returns?, Jul 2019; Wealth Professional, Companies that prioritize sustainability outperform for investors, Jan 2020.

[iii]Morningstar, Sustainability Atlas: The Nordics Keep the Title of Global ESG Leaders, Oct 2019;Corporate Knights, The Global 100 difference, Jan 2020.

[iv]Wikipedia, Environmental policy of the European Union; Vox, Europe now has its own Green Deal, Dec 2019; Data Center Knowledge, Data Center Operators Vie for Leverage as Europe Eyes Efficiency Rules, Feb 2020.

[v]Data Center Knowledge, Study: Data Centers Responsible for 1 Percent of All Electricity Consumed Worldwide, Feb 2020.

[vi]IEA, Digitalisation and Energy, Nov 2017.

Companies that uphold high ESG standards are outlasting those who don’t, by nearly double the lifespan.