What is the role of facility management in the sustainability equation of digital infrastructure?

What is the role of facility management in the sustainability equation of digital infrastructure?
Photo by CDC / Unsplash

The business of data centers is booming around the world. New actors such as infrastructure investors and technology companies are acquiring, building and expanding new and existing facilities. With this new found growth, comes new found responsibility in the public eye. Many countries such as the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, the United States, Singapore and Germany are putting data centers under scrutiny - due to their increasing power & water consumption, but also because of a lack of transparency and a lack of common understanding on both sides. Holistic Sustainability beyond energy efficiency is therefore coming onto the agenda of many data center owners, operators and occupiers, both as an opportunity and risk.

The question for service providers, in operations, maintenance, installation, facility management and advisory, becomes: What’s our role? How can we support our clients unlock opportunities and mitigate risks?

Retrofitting & upgrading existing facilities using green financing and subsidies

Newly build data center facilities are breaking records in efficiency and new innovations are slowly coming into the sector. But what about many of the legacy facilities? High PUEs, outdated cooling technology and even dead servers are an unaddressed problem that will come under increasing scrutiny in the next years. Moving equipment to a new facility is not often possible and also not necessary.

At the same time, across the globe, governments are providing subsidy-based funding as well as new financing tools to retrofit and renovate buildings, improving the sustainability of the existing building stock. Many of these tools can be leveraged to turn antiquated and inefficient data center facilities into modern, highly efficient assets that can have an extended lifetime. A win for sustainability as well as owners & investors.

There is already an increasing percentage of investors buying legacy facilities, to retrofit and extend operational lifespan as a viable investment model.

One example is the Private Equity fund from the Netherlands, Penta Infra.

Further SPIE has conducted retrofits already, with great commercial success.

Advising owners of legacy facilities on viable upgrade, retrofitting and financing options will likely become a sought-after services by many actors in the market. Partnering with the supply chain and vendors can have increased benefits, these vendors can provide upgrade paths for legacy equipment as well as guidance on how to increase efficiency or replace parts.

Monitoring, reporting and assessments of key sustainability indicators

In it’s recently released draft of the upcoming revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive the European Union is already hinting at what is to come:

'Revised Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) is one of the most relevant pieces for data centres as it proposes a new set of measures for the industry named “data centre sustainability indicators”.’

It’s very likely that many data center operators will have to report on more in-depth sustainability metrics, ranging from:

  • Operational and embedded emissions
  • Pollution from backup generators
  • Electricity consumption & efficiency
  • Water consumption, sourcing and recycling
  • Handling of electronic waste, refurbishment and recycling of materials

Some of data for these metrics is already available at many facilities through DCIM and energy management systems. However for many operators, building a reliable reporting system that is regulation and thus future-proof will be challenging. This opens the opportunity for advisory & implementation services offered by trusted partners.

Procuring sustainability metrics for CSR and ESG reporting for occupiers

Another recent trend is the revision of CSR reporting regulations to include more holistic sustainability metrics, beyond pure financial indicators. (Link EU regulation). This goes hand-in-hand with investors deploying green capital into data center and digital infrastructure assets and requiring solid ESG frameworks for governance and reporting.

Gathering data and implementing reliable and scalable reporting systems for single assets and portfolios is increasingly in demand.

The SDIA is running a dedicated investors program to utilise the SDIA Roadmap as a governance and sustainability framework already, with many of the leading investors participating.