Matías Sellanes is a Principal Consultant at the sustainability advisory firm Ndevr Environmental where he focuses on climate change and human rights. At CDC Melbourne he will be speaking on “Tackling Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions – reducing the data centre footprint”. In his talk he will look at the steps that data centres can take to begin, or progress on their climate action journey. The talk will be founded on Ndevr Environmental’s work with some of Australia’s leading data centre providers.
He sees one of the key drivers for data centres towards good sustainability practices as unashamedly economic. Electricity consumption has the greatest impact on data centre sustainability as it accounts, he estimates, for more than 95% of emissions. The drive towards sustainability is also offering recognition of high standards of social and environmental performance. “These will definitely have benefits such as attracting and retaining talent. It has been demonstrated that sustainable businesses are more resilient during challenging times”. He adds that “they will be very well prepared for future and upcoming regulation”.
Some major operators are subject to compulsory reporting under NGER obligations as they emit over 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. In part the drive towards sustainable operations is increased with increased access to electricity via renewables, energy efficiency and to carbon neutral services.
Overall, Sellanes sees data centres positioned at an early stage of sustainability evolution and therefore there are opportunities and room for improvement. He identifies a number of challenges that data centres face in moving towards net-zero. These challenges change through the data centre’s life stage. Beginning at the design stage he suggests that “the sustainability work can be seen as a little bit overwhelming” therefore a strategy based on progression is recommended.
The context of data centre energy conservation are the larger targets established by the agreement between Labour and the Greens by which the larger polluters in Australia will be required to reduce their emissions nearly 5% year on year. Overall, the targets are a 43% emissions reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050. Sellanes sees the wider introduction of sustainability reporting standards into accounting from 2024. This will lead to greater interest among investors and end customers in ESG performance.
“So, if you don’t currently have an environmental management system or strategy, get started, because the transition is already happening.”
This will also cover Scope 3 emissions which Sellanes describes as “your upstream and downstream emissions coming out of your downstream or upstream activities”.
The carbon costs of the chain of activities around a data centre represents monitoring and management challenges but also opportunities: “if you’re bringing value, actual value to this planet or to the people, there is and there will be reward behind that. So, for example, if you provide a carbon neutral service through your data centres, you can enter into the carbon neutral supply chain. Back that up with a strong decarbonisation strategy and make your business as energy efficient as possible. That will be even better because you’re not simply relying on offsets.”