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Why do you need a framework to audit data centre sustainability?

Written by Thu 15 Dec 2022

Verification of environmental and sustainability claims by data centre providers are set to be made possible by a new audit framework from the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact (CNDCP).

A committee of the CNDCP has completed work on an audit framework for data centre sustainability. Using this auditing tool, data centre companies will record efforts toward sustainability and measure the success of these initiatives.

“Today sees the culmination of a detailed project to create a solid foundation to underpin our signatories’ commitments. With less than two years until compliance with some of our targets is required, the Framework marks an important acceleration in our journey as we place formal, independent verification of our environmental sustainability at the heart of the Pact,” said Michael Winterson, European Data Centre Association Chairperson.

The CNDCP is a coalition of data centre operators and trade associations voluntarily participating in efforts to make Europe climate neutral by 2050. For their part, data centre operators have committed to making their own facilities climate neutral by 2030.

The CNDCP covers several large functions of data centre sustainability:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Clean energy
  • Water
  • Circular economy
  • Circular energy
  • Governance

Data centres have been under scrutiny for some time due to the consumption of natural resources and strain on local infrastructure. Businesses in the industry have been pressured to invest in solutions that will, for example, reduce energy usage and integrate renewable power sources, lower the need for water to be used in cooling systems, and create a reliable backup power system that is less reliant on diesel generators.

It has been in the companies’ favor to publicise their efforts toward improving environmental impact for several reasons. First, as more community action groups and local governments express concern about the effects of having a data centre in their locale, showing efforts toward improving environmental impact can buy some much-needed goodwill and improve chances of hundred-million-dollar projects moving forward.

Environmental impact reports can make it possible for a business to charge a higher rate than its competitors, sort of a green surcharge. Customers may be inclined to pay a bit more if they feel the data centre has invested in mitigating environmental damage – something that they can then justify by tying their choice of a premium green provider to their own green business efforts.

Finally, more business loans are being structured around ESG initiatives, providing basic qualification or lower interest rates to companies that are working to reduce their environmental impact. So, if companies are participating voluntarily and are in agreement on the necessity of sustainability initiatives, why do they need an audit framework?

Data Centre Standardisation

Until now, businesses have been able to choose from a variety of different measurements and standards. A data centre operator could measure success using ISO standards, LEED/BREEAM guidelines, of simple Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) measurements. A data centre company could advertise that they are an endorser in the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres, or a participant, or both. They could follow the EN50600 series of data centre design, build and operate standards, without using the follow up EN50600-3-1 standards for day-to-day operations and processes.

“This is a significant step for our sector, and indeed any sector. We will be moving swiftly to achieve certification and to act as a role model for other operators and other businesses by proving we do what we say we’ll do to protect the planet,” said Matt Pullen, EVP and Managing Director Europe at CyrusOne, Chairperson of the CNDCP, and EUDCA Board Member.

Greenwashing in the Industry

Businesses in the data centre industry have been accused of greenwashing: that is, ‘conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound’. The lack of a cohesive framework for measuring compliance gives more credence to these complaints – because the ability to pick and choose between different standards allows a business to present itself in the most favorable light.

Another factor contributing to the claims of greenwashing is the fact that, until now, data centre businesses were able to claim adherence to sustainability goals without the need to provide verification from an outside party.

However, with the publishing of the new audit framework for EU businesses, many of these issues will be alleviated. Pact signatories will be expected to follow the audit framework over the next 12 months. In a statement, the CNDCP noted, “It will no longer be possible to simply claim adherence, and pact signatories will stand out for their verifiable sustainability credentials.”

The CNDCP authorised third-party auditors to assess and certify a company’s compliance to the terms of the pact. These may include data centre owners, operators, or tenants.

“The implementation of the CNDCP Audit Framework marks an end to accusations of greenwashing across the industry. With this tool signatories can demonstrate and prove the steps they are taking to comply with the far-reaching commitments set out in the Pact’s Self-Regulator Initiative. We do not know of any other industries that have taken such definitive steps to back up sustainability claims,” said Francisco Mingorance, Secretary General of CISPE and Pact Board Member.

Using the audit framework will provide another advantage for data centre customers. Now, customers will be able to make 1:1 comparisons between providers, with data that has been verified by a third-party resource.

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Written by Thu 15 Dec 2022

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