To meet the region’s 2030 environmental conservation goals, try a three-pronged approach, says this regional technology chief.

In the past year, digital services have been increased exponentially to keep societies safe and to adapt to pandemic containment measures.

However, life in the new, smart normal has come at a price—such as isolation and distancing—but one aspect that is ironically quite hidden considering that its role is usually to illuminate: the energy toll.

As we move towards endemic-living, there is no doubt that organizations will continue to build on their digital service offerings. Total global energy demand is expected to return to its pre-crisis levels by early 2023 with the Asia Pacific region (APAC) accounting for more than half of global energy consumption. This undoes years of progress and plans made in sustainable development.

As the world looks to make up for lost time and opportunities, growth is on everyone’s minds. But, in the way we have seen many aspects of our environment heal over the past year or so, such as cleaner air resulting from overall reduction in urban emissions and electricity demand across the region—opportunities abound to reconsider our impact in terms of energy, and how our usage can be made more efficient.

Tapering DC energy consumption

It is, of course, no easy feat to balance the need for more data processing (i.e., building more data centers or what we call DCs) and being environmentally responsible in our energy consumption. So how can the data center industry reduce and/or offset its carbon footprint to enable more sustainable growth?

At Lenovo, we consider a three-pronged ‘trident’ approach.

  1. Raising environmental awareness

Today, 90% of consumers in Asia are more drawn to brands that operate with a purpose. Beyond purchasing products for their functional value, customers are increasingly looking at how brands positively impact the world they live in. Often, we think of this in terms of supply chain or packaging, but where you route your data could equally be taken into consideration.

The DCs of tomorrow that are built with a competitive advantage should not only be measured through their abilities in seamlessly integrating their system management platforms with the environment, but should also factor-in cleaner initiatives to keep them running.

For example, your data center provider may boast sustainable advancement in facilities through ways such as power supply efficiency and direct liquid cooling. Organizations can then pass on this information to consumers, not only to demonstrate their own green credentials, but also to increase environmental awareness of topics consumers may be less familiar with. This will help strengthen industry-wide standards and commitments to ‘Green IT’ leading to long-term, meaningful change.

  1. Private-public sector collaboration

Speaking of standards, it is crucial they are formed and enforced to encourage the building of sustainable data centers. This can be made possible through synergies between private and public partnerships.

Take Singapore for example: when the government realiszd data centers took up 12% of the nation’s electricity demand in 2020, a moratorium on DC construction was issued to support the growth for more sustainable data centers. This initiative propelled collaboration between organizations and the public sector to ensure sustainable data centers are built, all while increasing awareness of Singapore’s efforts to counteract energy usage and climate change.

As countries start implementing regulations with regard to corporate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) data reporting, many organizations are proactively showing progress in their actions on ESG goals to show their commitment. Lenovo reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 92% in FY19/20, and we are on our way to meeting the 2030 goal of reducing direct emissions and emissions related to purchased electricity, steam and cooling by 50%.

  1. Investing to build sustainable data centers

But the golden question is, how do you make a data center sustainable? Where can you make changes to effect true, deep impact?

In APAC, this may take the form of deploying solar power for DC operations or installing better cooling systems. Running data centers at cooler temperatures to minimize power consumption becomes complex in APAC. In fact, cooling technologies currently represent 35% to 40% of total data center energy demand, so if you can crack that conundrum, you are looking at a very significant opportunity for data center operators to further reduce energy usage and costs.

At Lenovo, for example, we have developed a system that uses warm water and air cooling to extract heat from systems, preventing them from over-operating, lowering electricity consumption generated from keeping data centers cool. Using this very system, we helped support the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD) to withdraw 90% of the heat generated from their data operations.

Needless to say, these are of course only first steps and more work still needs to be done to innovate and implement energy efficient technologies.

Sustainability a key priority

More open discussions on tackling today’s energy crisis will be integral to enabling both organizations and investors alike to find the best approach to build more energy efficient and productive data centers. But it is clear that the future of DCs in the face of climate change is for us to control and change.

We need to be better guardians of our environment, and both private and public organizations have a part to play in ensuring societies and businesses continue to grow without compromising our planet.

This is the new normal, but if we want a smart future, we need to be prepared to reimagine and rebuild.