Governments are renewing climate action efforts, both in the U.S. and abroad. COP26, the most recent edition of the UN Climate Change Conference, drove home a sobering truth: more than five years out from the Paris Agreement, countries still need to get much more aggressive about their climate goals to bring about meaningful change. Under the current administration, the U.S. federal government has signaled it will once again take a leading role by returning to the Paris Agreement and pledging to cut emissions by at least 50% by 2030.
While government officials often call on private businesses to reduce emissions, they are now looking inward to address legacy federal systems and practices that are obstacles to their sustainability goals. In a recent executive order, the Biden White House called for the federal government to “lead by example,” using its considerable scale and procurement power to achieve five ambitious climate goals. Also, Congress recently passed language to require the Department of Defense (DoD) to improve energy efficiency of their owned-and-operated data centers. To achieve these goals, industry leaders like Equinix can help government agencies modernize their digital infrastructure.
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The U.S. federal government is the single largest consumer of IT services in the world, and how it gets those services has significant sustainability implications. In order to meet the administration’s ambitious climate goals, acceleration of implementing digital services will be key over the next few years: according to a Gartner® survey of 166 government organizations in April-May 2021, “…24% of government organizations were classified as digitally advanced, delivering against transformation-focused digital initiatives, as well as initiatives that could be considered optimization of existing practices.”
Federal data center practices have not kept up with industry standards
For federal agencies, the data center space is one area that’s particularly ripe for modernization. Government-owned-and-operated data centers can use excessive amounts of energy if they’re not optimized for efficiency. Federal efforts to address this problem have made steady and admirable, yet uneven progress over the course of a decade and have been outpaced by industry.
In 2010, the U.S. government launched the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, which sought to achieve cost savings and improve energy efficiency by closing and consolidating government-run data centers. This effort evolved into the Data Center Optimization Initiative, which together with the government’s Cloud Smart strategy led to significantly lower costs, energy savings, and productivity improvements.
Despite these accomplishments, the commercial cloud and data center industries have achieved compute and energy efficiency gains that would be difficult and costly for the federal government to replicate acting alone:
- In 2010, 79% of computing in the private sector was done in small, traditional data centers like those run by the federal government. By 2018, 89% of computing took place in larger, utility-style data centers operated by hyperscalers or managed service providers, significantly reducing the number of private data centers.
- During that same time (2010-2018), computing output increased 6x while energy consumption increased only 6%.
With such industry advancements, transitioning to commercial solutions allows the government to minimize their presence in the data center business while also achieving energy efficiency and cost savings goals so they can better focus resources on their agency missions.
Accessing the best of the data center industry
In parallel with federal data center modernization efforts, the commercial data center industry continues to accelerate initiatives to increase energy efficiency, improve security, and provide innovative services for greater productivity. Data center operators recently partnered with cloud service providers to launch the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact, a self-regulatory initiative designed to drive climate neutrality across the industry by 2030. While the pact began in Europe, Equinix and many other participants plan to implement its requirements more broadly. Equinix is the first data center operator to commit to becoming climate-neutral globally by 2030, with a science-based target aligned to the aims of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C in support of the UN Sustainability Development Goals (UN SDGs).
The data center colocation sector has also been a key enabler of open hybrid cloud environments, which provide for greater flexibility and productivity without raising concerns about the security of mission-critical functions. In addition, data center operators are increasingly providing new services such as edge computing, which unlocks greater speed, reach, flexibility and productivity.
As the federal government reaches the limits of its data center energy efficiency and productivity efforts, the need for greater efficiency (starting with climate neutrality and progressing to net-zero emissions) and access to innovative new solutions will continue. Government agencies that work with digital ecosystem partners inside a vendor-neutral colocation provider are well positioned to meet their data center modernization and sustainability needs.
Transitioning from government-owned-and-operated data centers to commercial colocation solutions is truly the “low-hanging fruit” of federal sustainability efforts. In addition to helping agencies make progress toward the current administration’s aggressive climate goals, the move will also drive cost savings, allowing agencies to dedicate more of their limited resources to their core missions. Furthermore, working with a leading digital infrastructure platform provider like Equinix can help agencies access innovative new services such as artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), advanced analytics, and APIs.
Equinix helps government agencies prepare for a sustainable future
To help our government customers meet their aggressive emission reduction goals while also getting the optimized digital infrastructure they need to fulfill their missions, Equinix has implemented innovative sustainability technologies throughout our data centers and operations as part of our “Future First” commitment to sustainability.
Our efforts include:
- Achieving more than 90% renewable coverage for our global data center energy consumption.
- Pursuing science-based targets and applied innovative techniques to push sustainability forward in all three regions.
- Issuing more than $3.7 billion in green bonds in the U.S. and Europe to support innovation in green buildings, renewable energy, energy and water efficiency, waste reduction and clean transportation.
- Co-authoring and signing the Climate Neutral Data Centre Operator Pact and Self-Regulatory Initiative for climate neutrality by 2030, along with 31 other data center operators and 20 trade associations.
- Leveraging brick-based, modular data centers that are compatible with a variety of local renewable energy sources.
To learn more about how Equinix can simultaneously support your agency’s digital transformation and sustainability goals, schedule a Government Digital Edge Strategy briefing today.
 Reuters, “U.S. pledges to halve its emissions by 2030 in renewed climate fight”.
 The White House, “FACT SHEET: President Biden Signs Executive Order Catalyzing America’s Clean Energy Economy Through Federal Sustainability”.
 Gartner Press Release, “Gartner Survey Finds More Than Half of Digital Government Programs Are Failing to Scale”. October 26, 2021. GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.
 Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, “From Cloud First to Cloud Smart”.
 The New York Times, “Cloud Computing Is Not the Energy Hog That Had Been Feared” February 27, 2020