The cloud and the data centers that make it possible have become a crucial part of business and of life. Unfortunately, data centers and specifically generating the enormous amount of power required to run them, can also be quite detrimental to the environment. Demand for cloud services and data centers isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
In 2014 U.S. data centers consumed about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, according to a study of data center energy use by the U.S. government. That’s about 2% of the U.S.’s total energy consumption.
Unfortunately our dependence on the cloud and its impacts can be very much out-of-sight and, therefore, out-of-mind. Imagine that signature block that says, “Think about the environment before you print this e-mail”. The sender is trying to make us think about the hidden impacts of what we’re doing, but what about the hidden impacts of e-mail itself (and its 12MB attachment). As with many of our sustainable business challenges, if business as usual is driving a big negative impact, there is probably an opportunity to turn it around. Maybe a new way of thinking would use all that new demand to drive big positive impacts.
That’s exactly what we have found. As we started to grow our data center business we recognized that we needed to do something different to address the air and climate polluting impacts of fossil fuel energy generation. We started to study options for using wind, solar and other renewable power sources. It wasn’t easy but, after a lot of work, in 2015 we achieved just 1% of our global electric footprint from renewables. Persistence, creativity and a lot of help from our friends helped us find breakthroughs. By 2017 we achieved 30% of our global electricity footprint and 100% of our data center operations for wind and solar power. Furthermore, our long term contracts were helping us stabilize energy costs while we saved an estimated $2 million per year in the process.
This year we announced that we are joining the RE100 and are committed to run all of our 1400 facilities in 54 countries, over 85 million square feet, with green power while maintaining 100% green power for our data centers.
In 2018, that will mean adding more than 400,000 MWh annually as we aspire to achieve 100% coverage for our recently expanded data center business. As an industry, we can choose how we power data centers. To protect our planet, industry leaders need to step up when it comes to choosing responsible energy sources.
Collaboration is Key
It’s a big challenge, so achieving an effective green data center strategy requires help from the community – and collaboration with our peers – to find cost effective solutions.
As part of a Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) group of data center and other large companies, Iron Mountain is working with utilities, NGOs — including World Wildlife Fund, Business for Social Responsibility, World Resources Institute and Rocky Mountain Institute — and regulators as well as our peers to create a greener, more economical and socially responsible grid for everyone.
Our involvement with the Future of Internet Power is an example of how we work to build industry consensus on carbon accounting rules and to create guidelines for data center owners to buy and supply green power to data center users. Building the momentum on this collective action is critical, so we make it a priority.
A Healthy Environment is Good for Business
Using renewable energy and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions is a happy side effect of greening our business – for us and for our customers.
There is no doubt that organizations prioritizing a green data center strategy will find it introduces cost stability and predictable future margins on energy costs, in addition to curbing greenhouse gas pollution.
Iron Mountain has experienced this win-win-win firsthand and is saving more than $2 million per year because of it.
This means our customers, too, reap multiple benefits from affordable, reliable, cost-stable and climate-neutral renewable energy. It also helps them reduce their dependence on fossil fuel, reduce business risk, lock in costs, and meet specific federal Power Usage Effectiveness compliance metrics.
Every business that uses the cloud or third party data centers has a climate impact. A promising first step in addressing this is becoming a signatory to the cloud and colocation data center buyer principals. This will show that your company is interested in good data and suppling green power which will, in turn, help the green energy market grow.
I would also advise that your company count your third party data center impact as part of your climate footprint and report it via CDP (formerly known as the carbon disclosure project) or other public reporting. Many companies are counting this as scope 2 emissions.
I encourage companies to consider data center providers who can offer green power and pass on the benefits that come with it.
Like others in the industry, we’ve made great progress, but there will undoubtedly continue to be challenges.
One such challenge will be fully decoupling our data center growth from fossil fuels. Still, we are committed to continuing the work with our peers, NGOs, utility companies and others to procure cost-effective renewable energy for our operations. So much can happen with the help of a deeply passionate, sustainability-focused, collective brain trust.
I’m proud to be a part of an organization committed to using its purchasing power to support a greener grid for everyone. One greener step at a time is how we start.