A helping hand on sustainability challenges

New reporting requirements for data centres and IT don’t have to be burden they might first appear with help and resources from a trusted partner. By Steven Carlini, Schneider Electric.

Sustainability is hard, of that there is little doubt.

And soon, for some regions, it’s about to get harder. In Europe, for example, the move to curb greenwashing has meant a raft of changes in how products and services can be described, but also how measures such as emissions offsets can be claimed towards sustainability efforts. Furthermore, the European Energy Efficiency Directive has direct impact for the tech industry, as from May of 2024, data centres of 500kW or more must report energy efficiency figures. This has caused some pushback in some quarters, but it is probably representative of a wider trend, including the US and China, who are also making progress in terms of metrics, reporting, and efficiency drives in broader efforts to meet emissions goals.

Global view Schneider Electric’s global business means that we work with all sorts of organisations around the world. What we are seeing is that a lot of businesses are still really struggling to get a handle on their emissions, their efficiency, and the right steps to get to where they need, and want, to be. Even those businesses that are not necessarily under the incoming reporting obligations know that they have to start putting in place the tools and measures that will help them understand. They need to know where they are, where they must improve, and be able to plot a path to where they need to be. We see that there’s still a massive lack of understanding on Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.

Schneider Electric made a conscious decision five years ago, to focus on sustainability as a core business, and at that time, I’ll be frank, it was not a hugely popular decision. The prevailing attitude was ‘that's not a business, that's something that you have to comply with’. We saw it a little differently. We saw it as an opportunity to partner with customers across all industries on their data and on their journey for sustainability.

We deal with companies that are leading in sustainability, and we're helping them in particular on their Scope 3 initiatives. We're dealing with companies that are trying to establish themselves as green companies that qualify for the likes of green funding, green bonds, and are qualified to be included in ESG bonds, for example.

Familiar questions Some of the questions we deal with are quite familiar. As they start to get a handle on what is happening in their complete IT portfolio, and as they know they need to start reporting on it, they ask ‘What do we do? How do we get started? How do we set

goals. How do we put the metrics in place to start gathering this data? What do we do with it?’ Well, we can help.

We have a sustainability business where we have over 2,000 consultants that are specialised in different industries, and we have around 50 global consultants that are ready to deal with customers on their journey.

We also have a lot of resources. We have a lot of tools, and we have a lot of white papers on how to do it.

Sustainability metrics We have recently updated our white paper on environmental sustainability metrics for data centres, that sets out five categories and 23 key metrics for data centre operators who are in the Beginning, Advanced and Leading stages of their sustainability journey. It sets out clear guidance on what to measure, how and how to incorporate those metrics into standardised reporting to allow like for like comparisons with peers, competitors, and other sectors. Building on that, we wrote one recently for CIOs on how to get the carbon footprint of your IT across your enterprise, and we have guidance on how to put that in place.

While most of the people I talked to are worried about reporting, they're really worried about their business. They are coming to terms with having to do reporting, but they are also asking how am I going to use it as a benefit for my business? They want to understand where they're using the most energy, if there's an outlier, and if there's something they need to fix. It's not just about getting the data and reporting with it, it's about how do you run your business better. These regulations are a way to force companies to actually look at that, but many of them have been planning this way anyway, and we are ready, with the tools and insights, to help with that.

More CIO's are getting involved with this across the world and it's becoming part of their job. They're becoming responsible for the energy footprint of their IT the emissions of their IT, some of them are actually being made responsible for buying the energy to support the IT. The world is really changing, and the role of the CIO is changing too.

AI impact We are also seeing how artificial intelligence (AI) is not only helping businesses get a better understanding of their own decarbonization, but also how it can help with other industries. We're publishing a series of papers on data centres and AI, and how AI is going to be implemented in decarbonising a lot of industries by 2050. Obviously, there is a consensus of what we need to do for decarbonisation, and there's a pathway to do it, but what many people don't understand is what that actually means in the data centre.

For example, in Germany, they brought 800 people to see the data centres that they were regulating because they didn't really know what they were regulating. In our resources, we targeted the top four carbon emitting industries, transportation, energy generation, buildings, and manufacturing, and all of these have a plan to

decarbonize. What we're doing is quantifying and showing people that without data centres, you can only get so far, which is about halfway. With data centres and the services they host and provide, you can get to the whole way — you're improving your processes, you're improving your systems, you're improving your automation, and everything is in the spirit of decarbonisation.

Message mission It's going to be fascinating when we put these out there because there's a lot of hand wringing and saying, ‘we have all these data centres, they're going to ruin the environment’ but the truth is actually the opposite. We're on a mission to wave that flag and show how data centres will be the digital foundation that will allow businesses to decarbonise themselves, while providing the useful means for other industries to get there too.

And that’s got to be a good thing. To access our sustainability consulting services, speak to us and check out our dedicated pages, and see our full list of white papers.

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