Working with customers to achieve sustainability in the data centre industry

Written By

Mark Reynolds
Vice President Global Operations


Digital Realty

In the first edition of our Customer First Focus Blog Series, I discussed the importance of listening and collaborating with customers and how that impacts many of the successes we have at Digital Realty.

The explosion of data growth, the acceleration of demand and the disruption of data gravity barriers are global challenges our customers face today. When we talk with them, we hear how today’s digital economy is changing how they create/deliver value, creating new security challenges, and disrupting workflows.

Solving those issues is critical to our customers, but there is also another essential objective they want to achieve due to the trends of today – sustainability.

Sustainability, data centres and the digital workplace

In Forrester’s recent Data Center and Colocation Market Trends 2021 report, they point out that:

“Scrutiny of the environmental impact of data centres is concurrent with their growth in the world’s major economic hubs. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic boosted remote work models, surging global internet traffic by 40 per cent between February 1 and mid-April 2020. More traffic consumes more power.”

We know that some changes will remain after the pandemic, including a more prevalent and permanent presence of a digital workplace. At the same time, data gravity continues to intensify, and data growth continues to increase. So, it is not hard to imagine the reasons why sustainability is important to customers.

When businesses see Forrester talk about environmental scrutiny and data centres, I am sure that gets their attention. It can be one of the key drivers for wanting to be part of the global effort to be an eco-conscious business.

Global data center industry sustainable environmental performance

Even before the pandemic put its stamp on the digital workplace, our CEO, Bill Stein, talked with Jim Cramer about our latest round of sustainability initiatives. “We’re focused on sustainability because it matters to our customers and because we think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

In fact, 90 per cent of our top 20 customers have publicly stated the importance of achieving sustainability goals. So, our sales and customer success teams are already finding ways to collaborate and integrate our ESG initiatives with their ESG commitments and feedback.

Talking about sustainability and showing actions, results and recognitions is essential to customers when they seek out an eco-friendly partner.

Bill’s interview with Jim Cramer was in April of 2020, shortly after we signed a 7.5-year power and renewable energy certificate to provide us with 260,000 MW of wind power each year. Bill was able to tell Cramer’s viewers that we avoided 500,000 metric tons of carbon emissions over the last two years.

That is the equivalent of taking over 100,000 cars off the road each year. By the end of 2020, we avoided 1.9 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions.

However, our company and our customers have been able to achieve so much more since that conversation, including:

•             Improving resource efficiency via energy, water, waste, and carbon

•             Communicating transparency and performance with stakeholders

•             Setting an aggressive carbon emissions target with the Science-Based Target Initiative (SBTi)

•             Focusing on 100% renewable energy for all European properties

•             Empowering our Incentive Pursuit Program to help teams maximize and save energy

•             Utilising a river cooling project that is expected to save 18,400 MWh of energy and 795 tons of CO2 per year (at total capacity)

Yet, this is just the beginning. You can see even more of our sustainability initiatives, achievements, collaborations, and recognitions in our 2020 ESG Report. In it, we also highlight the ways we engage with customers about energy efficiency, transparency, green lease standards and clean energy projects.

The reinforcement of recognition

When customers get serious about sustainability, they seek out partners who have a proven track record of seeking out and achieving climate-focused goals. For example, Criteo has a goal of powering its business with 100 per cent renewable energy and felt Digital Realty was the ideal partner:

“We think Digital Realty are real trendsetters in this space. We can tell that (sustainability) is an important goal for them. We believe they can actually help drag the industry along with them because as more and more people will start looking for renewable energy options, the rest of the industry will have to move in lockstep and catch up with the leader.”

This is the perfect example of:

1.            The reason we need to listen more to our customers and act on their feedback

2.            Setting trends and staying ahead of the competition

3.            Why it is important for PlatformDIGITAL to address the data explosion/data gravity/interconnection challenges + sustainability goals.

4.            How customers pay attention to the landscape when choosing a partner.

To effectively demonstrate the impact sustainability initiatives, have on carbon footprints, results in efficiencies and costs are significant, but so are recognitions from environmentally-focused entities.

In our ESG report, you will also see recognitions that include:

•             2020 NAREIT Leader in the Light Award Winner in the Data Center Sector

•             EPA ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year in 2020 and 2021

•             Green Lease Leader, Gold Award in 2020 and 2021

•             EPA Green Power Partnership’s Top 20 Tech and Telecom List Newsweek’s Most Responsible Companies list in 2021

As with any critical business goal, collaborations with customers play a crucial role in achieving success, and that includes the development of ESG initiatives. In an interview with Nareit, Aaron Binkley (2020 Infrastructure Masons Sustainability Champion Finalist and our Senior Director of Sustainability Programs) said communication was key to establishing (and shall we say “sustaining’) an ESG report:

“Early on, you want to assess the materiality of the topics you’re going to be focusing on and to do that, you want to be talking to key stakeholders,” he said.

Sustainability is a goal that we can work together to achieve. If we can help you develop new sustainability goals or do more to achieve them, contact us today.

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