If you run a data center, you know that they consume significant energy for powering and cooling equipment. Old equipment fills landfills and very few organizations recycle properly. There are numerous opportunities for data centers and IT companies to incorporate sustainability into their operations. Still, there are also some challenges and considerations that you must take into account.  

This article will explore the importance of data center sustainability and the role it plays in reducing carbon emissions, conserving energy and resources, and improving overall environmental impact. We will also examine the challenges faced by data centers, best practices for promoting sustainability in this critical industry, and how to get started. 

Data Center Sustainability, Obstacles, and Initiatives

Data centers have supported the rise of the digital age, providing the infrastructure to support our ever-increasing demand for data storage and management, cloud computing, and streamlined business operations. However, the energy consumption and resource usage of data centers have a significant impact on the environment. Data centers account for about two percent of global energy consumption, which is projected to rise to eight percent by 2030

As the demand for data storage and processing continues to grow, it is increasingly important to ensure that data centers are designed and operated in a sustainable manner. In fact, data center sustainability is the key to maintaining the efficiency and innovation that is expected in the modern world.

Types of Data Center Services

If you run a data center, chances are it fulfills multiple services:

  • Cloud computing: Data centers provide the infrastructure to support cloud computing services, including Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).
  • Data storage: Data centers provide centralized storage for large amounts of data, including critical business data, financial records, and personal information.
  • Network connectivity: Data centers provide connectivity to the internet and other networks, enabling organizations to connect with customers, partners, and employees.
  • Backup and disaster recovery: Data centers provide backup systems and disaster recovery solutions to minimize downtime and ensure data availability in instances of disruption.
  • Hosting: Data centers provide hosting services for websites, applications, and other online services.
  • Colocation: Data centers provide colocation services, where organizations can physically locate their own equipment in the data center.
  • Managed services: Data centers provide managed services, such as server and network management, to support the operations of the data center.
  • Security services: Data centers provide security services, including firewalls, intrusion detection, and access controls, to protect the data and infrastructure.

All of these services can be optimized for performance, efficiency and effectiveness. The key is to understand how to provide those services with the least amount of energy.

Top Data Center Sustainability Obstacles

There are several obstacles that make it challenging to achieve sustainability in data centers. One of the biggest challenges is energy consumption, as data centers require large amounts of energy to power servers, cooling systems, and other equipment. Additionally, data center systems produce heat which is wasted without the proper technology in place. The rapid growth of data and the increasing demand for data processing and storage puts a strain on existing data center infrastructure and increases energy usage. 

Another obstacle is the complexity of data center design and operation. There are so many fine-tuned elements that make up a data center which all must work seamlessly together, making it difficult to know where to begin, when to replace parts, when to integrate new systems and when to replace equipment. The lack of standardization and establishment of industry-wide best practices for data center sustainability also presents a challenge, making it nearly impossible for data center operators to compare and measure their sustainability efforts. Finally, the cost of implementing sustainable solutions and upgrading existing data centers can be a barrier, particularly for smaller organizations with limited resources or those with long-established processes and equipment that are difficult to transition away from. 

Data Center Sustainability Obstacles

The following list includes some obstacles you may encounter when trying to implement sustainability at your data center:

  • Energy consumption: Data centers consume a significant amount of energy to power the servers and cooling systems, leading to high energy costs and carbon emissions.
  • Waste heat: The high energy consumption of data centers results in the production of a significant amount of waste heat, which can be difficult to manage and dispose of.
  • Water usage: Data centers also consume a large amount of water for cooling purposes, which can lead to water scarcity issues and contribute to water waste.
  • E-waste: The constant updating and upgrading of data center equipment lead to the generation of large amounts of e-waste, which can be harmful to the environment if not properly disposed of.
  • Lack of standardization: The lack of standardization in data center sustainability practices and metrics can make it difficult to compare the environmental impact of different data centers.
  • Complex supply chain: The complexity of the data center supply chain, including the use of many different components and materials, can make it challenging to track the environmental impact of data center operations.
  • Resistance to change: Some organizations may resist changes to their data center operations that are necessary for improving sustainability, such as implementing energy-efficient technologies or reducing water usage.

Top Data Center Sustainability Initiatives

Now that you understand your obstacles, it’s time to focus on solutions. These data center sustainability initiatives can range from simple measures such as reducing energy waste to more complex efforts such as implementing renewable energy sources or implementing a heat recovery system. From reducing energy usage to improving resource efficiency, these initiatives aim to make data centers more efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective.

Data center sustainability initiatives should address the following areas: 

  • Energy efficiency
  • Energy conservation
  • Energy source
  • Water
  • Waste management
  • Supply chain
  • Social responsibility

Here are some sample initiatives to implement sustainability in each of these areas. 

Energy Efficiency 

  • Use solid-state drives: Solid-State Drives (SSDs) are durable, more efficient alternatives to spinning hard drives that use less than 15 percent of the power consumed by traditional models. The benefits of SDDs having no small moving parts are numerous, including having faster load times and better system responsiveness, using less power, and having greater durability. 
  • Use DCIM to optimize your operations: There are several benefits to implementing a DCIM solution, including greater visibility of what’s happening throughout the data center, streamlined asset management, enhanced security, real-time equipment monitoring and machine learning to improve energy efficiency, and insightful data analytics.
    • There are two options for DCIM software: on-premise and cloud-based. On-premise DCIM is one of the best ways to consolidate information regarding power and environmental readings, security systems, and individual devices, but it is more limited in providing predictive analytics. 

Energy Conservation 

  • Rightsize systems to match workload requirements: Optimized component choices and configuration options exactly match the requirements for a target set of workloads.  These optimizations get rid of any unnecessary functionality, which reduces cost but also reduces power consumption and heat generation.  Different product lines are optimized for different workloads, for example, servers with more CPUs, cooling capacity, memory capacity, I/O capacity, or networking performance. HPC applications require fast CPUs, while content delivery networks need massive I/O capabilities Using the server type that is designed for the workload reduces the excess and unused capacity and, thus saves money.
  • Share common server infrastructure: Systems can be designed intentionally to share resources, which can lead to better overall efficiency. For example, sharing power supplies or fans among several nodes reduces the need to have these components for each node. Sharing common infrastructure means larger fans and more efficient power supplies can be used, reducing the electricity use when all of the nodes are running applications. 
  • Apply virtualization software – Applications do not always use all the computing power and data resources available on a server. This unused computing power can be tapped by multiple applications running independently on the same machine using virtualization. Virtualization enables an IT administrator to divide a single system to look like multiple systems so that it can run multiple applications without conflict with one another. For example, let’s say you have 4 servers running 4 applications at 20% capability. You may create 4 virtual machines using software and run all 4 applications on one machine at 80% capacity. This saves the cost of the equipment and the power to run them.

Energy Source 

  • Power your data center with renewable energy: Reduce the carbon footprint of data centers by using renewable energy from either local onsite power like solar, or working with utility companies that can provide green energy like solar, wind, and hydroelectric. Federal, state, and local governments and electric utilities encourage investments in and the use of renewable energy, with many programs and incentives available. The Database of State Incentives for Renewable and Efficiency® (DSIRE) is a comprehensive information source giving information on government and utility requirements and incentives for renewable energy. These incentives make the return on investment (ROI) for renewable energy very appealing. 


  • Use a liquid cooling system: Using a chilled water storage system has the potential to transfer up to 10,400 kWh of electricity consumption from peak to off-peak hours daily, improving cooling efficiency. Liquid cooling of the CPUs and GPUs can significantly reduce the need for Computer Air Room Cooling (CRAC) units in data centers and significantly lower the PUE of the data center. There are several different methods to use liquid cooling including Direct To Chip, Rear Door Heat Exchanger, and Immersion cooling. 

Waste Management 

  • Properly recycle electronic equipment at end of useful life: When choosing an electronics recycling company, be sure they can guarantee sensitive information left over on your devices is safe from hackers, reuse or refurbish any usable equipment, and adhere to e-waste disposal/recycling regulations. 
  • Donate usable electronic equipment to charities or non-profit organizations: Some important considerations when deciding where and how you donate your electronic equipment include what type of equipment they accept, how old your devices are, whether the devices have been cleared, and how to donate (pickup, dropoff, or mail). Additionally, you may be eligible for a tax deduction with certain donations.

Supply Chain 

  • Use sustainable cloud SaaS infrastructure and application providers: SaaS provides a complete software solution that you purchase on a subscription or pay-as-you-go basis from a cloud application provider. While cloud software is incredibly convenient and reduces the load of running thousands of energy-consuming computers to power thousands of websites and applications on-site, the burden transfers to the cloud application providers. Since all of the underlying infrastructure, app software, and data are located and managed in the service provider’s data center, it is important to choose sustainable cloud SaaS application providers. 

Social Responsibility

  • Offer free technology training to women, people of color, and those in under-served communities: To invest in a diverse workforce and promote equal opportunity, offer free technology training to women and minority groups. This will diversify the workforce and introduce different perspectives and ideas while improving the local economy. Though free technology training may not be obviously beneficial to your company, you could offer an internship or apprenticeship program, hire trainees to work for your company after completion of specific job training, or you can just feel good about helping to improve your local community. 

How to Get Started with Data Center Sustainability

There are steps you can take to get started with data center sustainability today. The first two steps you should take include conducting an assessment of your energy consumption, server utilization, and air conditioning to get a picture of where your data center is with sustainability physically, then adopting a DCIM tool to see how your system operates. A DCIM platform gathers and consolidates information regarding performance, energy usage, environmental conditions, and network status, giving data center administrators a single source to monitor and manage everything that’s happening within the facility.

Plan Your Data Center Sustainability, Become a Green Business Bureau Member

Become a GBB Member to gain full access to our list of data center/IT initiatives and plan your next steps. Once you sign up and select your industry as Computer/IT/Engineering, you can begin to check off what you have already done and plan what to undertake next. If you don’t know where to start, that’s no problem. We provide in-depth descriptions and key steps for each initiative. 

Here is a sample of our initiatives: 


In conclusion, data center sustainability is an increasingly important issue that has far-reaching impacts on the environment, energy consumption, and business operations. With the growing demand for data processing and storage, it is critical for data centers to adopt sustainability initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint and improve their overall environmental impact. By implementing energy-efficient design, incorporating renewable energy sources, and reducing water usage, data centers can become more sustainable, environmentally responsible, and cost-effective. Organizations and data center operators play a crucial role in promoting sustainability in the data center industry, and the efforts they make today will help shape a more sustainable future for generations to come.

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