How To Build An Eco-Friendly Data Center – And A More Competitive Business

By Ian Clatworthy, Director of Data Platform Product Marketing, Hitachi Vantara

Sustainability is a mega trend – it’s now one of the top things that businesses care about.

Environmental sustainability moved into CEOs’ top 10 priorities for the first time ever in 2022, according to a Gartner CEO survey. Gartner also reports that 87% of business leaders expect to increase sustainability investment over the next two years.

Our own data shows that sustainability, and data center decarbonization in particular, are top U.S. business priorities, with most IT leaders and C-level executives saying that they have developed plans for achieving carbon neutrality (78%) and net-zero carbon emissions (79%).

Customers, business leaders and employees are all behind the sustainability movement

Business leaders care about sustainability for compliance purposes, the primary driver of organizations’ sustainability efforts according to our research, and because it can make them more energy- and cost-efficient, and more competitive. In fact, more than half (58%) of the requests for proposals (RFPs) that my company sees incorporate sustainability objectives. 

But it’s not just a top-down push. 

The movement to become more sustainable is permeating businesses. Workforce and talent retention are other top CEO priorities, and employees are bringing their values from home into work. So, sustainability is coming from the top down and the bottom up.

Data centers are a massive problem – and a critical focus of sustainability efforts

It’s easy to understand why the data center is a key focus of organizations’ sustainability efforts. Data centers are notorious for consuming an enormous amount of electricity. Reports say the world’s data centers release even more greenhouse gas emissions than the aviation industry. 

Businesses understand that data centers are a major problem, and they want to change that.

Yet 80% of global IT leaders and C-level business executives said that their data center carbon footprint had either stayed the same or increased in the past two years. And 51% expect the carbon footprint of their data center will either be the same or increase two years from now.

Organizations must understand the different types of emissions and what they mean

Part of the challenge in moving the needle on data center sustainability is understanding everything involved in becoming more sustainable. As you work toward making your data centers and IT environments more sustainable, be aware there are three scopes of emissions.

Scope 1 involves emissions that are under your control. That includes things like the gas you burn to heat your factories and the cars your sales force uses to go out and sell your products. 

Scope 2 includes indirect emissions. A consideration in this case might be whether your organization is buying and using electricity from a producer that uses coal, gas or renewables.

Scope 3 also involves indirect emissions, but it’s even more difficult to address because it is not controlled by your organization in any way, shape or form. Here’s a great example: My company, and our competitors, sell storage arrays that are made from metal. The question is: Where does that metal come from? Does it come from a part of the world and a supplier that relies heavily on coal-fired manufacturing? Or was it manufactured in a low-CO2 environment?

The answer will be different based on the storage array supplier that you ask and may choose.

Where your IT suppliers manufacture and source their raw materials matters

Yet many customers don’t understand Scope 3 and its implications because most vendors don’t want to say where their equipment and the materials on which it is based are manufactured.

That’s a problem because making data centers and IT environments more sustainable is all about circular economics, as the World Economic Forum explains. To become more sustainable, businesses need to understand the complete lifecycle of the products that they buy and use. That includes knowing where your IT suppliers get their raw materials, where they design their products, how they design those products, and how they sell and deliver those products to you.

Decarbonization is about more than the product, it’s about the product’s entire supply chain. Be sure to ask IT suppliers you are talking to where they source and manufacture their equipment.

Don’t just take your IT suppliers’ word that they are fully sustainable, look to key third parties

Naturally, IT suppliers describe their companies in the most positive light. But to get a complete view of the extent to which IT suppliers actually address sustainability, look beyond what those suppliers say about their sustainability efforts. 

Examine the extent to which vendors are involved with the world’s most important sustainability organizations. Check to see if the IT suppliers you are considering have products certified under various standards such as Carbon Footprint of Products and ENERGY STAR.

Carbon Footprint of Products (CFP) visualizes CO2 equivalent emissions obtained by converting greenhouse gas emissions from the entire life cycle of a product, from the raw material acquisition stage to the disposal and recycle stage. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines standards for power consumption and other key indicators. Computers, servers and other IT equipment that satisfy these standards bear the international ENERGY STAR logo.

Upgrade only as needed, avoid lost time and understand your data

Work with IT suppliers that allow you to avoid needlessly throwing away what you have by enabling you to upgrade only what’s needed. For example, you may be able to upgrade the brain of a box while continuing to use the rest of the equipment, which still has years of life left. 

But there comes a point at which your company will need to do a forklift update. For most customers, that involves 18 months of work, with the new and the old storage arrays running side by side. That means that by the time you’ve migrated to the new solution, you’ve already lost two years of the new product’s lifespan. If you can avoid these services and eliminate that migration, you can do a forklift upgrade of your storage without losing that valuable time. You can do it without disruption, so your applications and users will never know, and with full data in place.

Benefitting from such efficiencies and reducing what you have in the data center also involves understanding your data, where you must keep it for compliance reasons, and what data you can move from primary storage to somewhere else. Be sure you can understand your data so you can realize cost efficiencies and reduce data center power requirements even further.

Understand that location matters, and get a full view of your data center sustainability

It’s also important to be aware that where you locate your data center, and place your IT equipment, matters. Some geographies use 100% renewable energy. Other parts of the world are predominantly gas powered, so you’ll have a much higher CO2 footprint. 

There are tools you can use to get started figuring out such critical considerations. With the right tools, you can also generate visualizations to better see and understand sustainability data.

When it comes to sustainability, the bottom line is that where your vendors manufacture matters. So, ask them that question. Check that vendors are externally certified. Extend the life of your equipment. And take a holistic approach to enable energy savings and minimize waste.

Ian Clatworthy is director of digital infrastructure product solutions marketing at Hitachi Vantara, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd. that delivers the intelligent data platforms, infrastructure systems, and digital expertise that support more than 80% of the Fortune 100. To learn how Hitachi Vantara turns businesses from data-rich to data-driven through agile digital processes, products, and experiences, visit

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