Measuring Data Center’s Carbon Footprint: Scope 1, 2, and 3 Emissions

Posted by Thane Moore on June 21, 2024

Data centers require vast amounts of electricity to operate. According to the International Energy Agency, data centers and data transmission networks each consume as much as 1.5 percent of electricity globally. In 2020, they generated about 330 megatons of CO2 equivalent. That’s about .6 percent of total GHG emissions and almost 1 percent of energy-related GHG emissions.

What Are the ‘Scopes’ of GHG Emissions?

GHG emissions are divided into three “scopes” to categorize the various types of emissions organizations generate through their operations and as part of their “value chain.” The term “scope” is used in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the most widely used standard for measuring and reporting GHG emissions.

Scope 1 Emissions

Scope 1 emissions come directly from sources the organization owns or controls. The primary examples are emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels in furnaces, boilers, and vehicles. Data centers tend to have negligible Scope 1 emissions (less than 1 percent of their total carbon footprint). Data center Scope 1 emissions include diesel fuel burned in generators and natural gas for heating.

Scope 2 Emissions

Scope 2 emissions are the indirect result of the organization’s activities. This primarily involves emissions from the generation of electricity that is purchased and used in the organization’s operations. Scope 2 emissions represent 31 percent to 61 percent of a data center’s total carbon footprint, primarily due to electricity usage.

Scope 3 Emissions

Scope 3 emissions are generated up and down the organization’s supply chain. Examples include the transportation and distribution of products and the activities of franchisees. Scope 3 includes all emissions that don’t fall within Scope 1 or 2. Simple math tells us that a data center’s Scope 3 emissions represent 38 percent to 69 percent of its total carbon footprint.

Why Is It Important to Measure GHG Emissions?

Measuring GHG emissions is an important first step toward developing meaningful sustainability policies. Data centers need to understand where and why emissions are generated so they can increase operational efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint. GHG monitoring, measuring, and reporting are also essential for meeting regulatory requirements. Because of the amount of energy they consume, data centers can impact global climate goals through their efforts to reduce emissions.

Additionally, transparent emissions reporting generates goodwill in local communities. As data centers enter more non-traditional markets, residents can hinder progress if they feel the data center will damage their community. Data centers need to be able to prove that they’re being good neighbors more than ever. 

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What GHG Emission Metrics Should Data Centers Consider?

Measuring GHG emissions is a complex undertaking that involves many variables. As a starting point, data center operators should understand some of the terms used in GHG emissions measurements.

Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e)

CO2E is a factor used to convert various GHGs (such as methane and nitrogen oxide) into the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. This enables data centers to express the overall impact of their GHG emissions in a standard unit.

Carbon Footprint

A data center’s carbon footprint is the total amount of carbon dioxide it produces directly or indirectly. It measures the data center’s total climate impact.

Carbon Intensity

Carbon intensity refers to the total amount of carbon dioxide produced per unit of energy consumed. This metric enables data centers to assess the environmental impact of various energy sources so they can choose the most sustainable options.

Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE)

CUE measures the CO2E produced per unit of work in a data center. It includes the work performed by IT equipment and supporting data center infrastructure.

Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE)

PUE is calculated by dividing the total amount of power the data center consumes by the power consumed by IT equipment. It measures the data center’s power efficiency. The lowest possible value is 1, indicating the highest possible energy efficiency.

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Enconnex is ISO 14001:2015 certified, demonstrating our commitment to sustainability and efficiency. We offer a range of products to help you meet your sustainability goals. We invite you to browse our products online and contact one of our specialists to discuss your objectives.

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Posted by Thane Moore on June 21, 2024

Thane Moore is the Senior Director of Sales Operations & Logistics for Enconnex and has 20 years of experience in the IT infrastructure manufacturing space working for companies such as Emerson and Vertiv.

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