Sustainability in Data Centers: What Makes a Data Center Sustainable?

Posted by Dave Bercovich on August 18, 2023

Sustainability has become a key consideration in data center design as more organizations adopt environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles. Traditional data centers raise environmental concerns due to significant power and water consumption. Sustainable data centers use less of these resources, reducing environmental impacts and operational costs.

What is a sustainable data center? Here’s a look at some of the terms, concepts, and strategies.

Data Center Sustainability Concepts

The overarching objective of data center sustainability is to minimize the facility’s environmental footprint. Several core concepts fall under that umbrella.


ESG is a framework for assessing an organization’s operations in terms of ethical impact. From the organization’s perspective, it involves a strategy for maximizing environmental sustainability, fair treatment of workers, community engagement, ethical business practices, and risk management. Investors increasingly use ESG factors to evaluate corporate performance.


Power usage effectiveness (PUE) measures how much energy is used by computing equipment versus cooling and other overhead. Created by The Green Grid, PUE is calculated by dividing the total energy a data center consumes by the amount used by the computing equipment. If the two numbers are equivalent — meaning that all energy goes to computing equipment — then the ratio will be 1.0.

Carbon Accounting

Also called greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting, carbon accounting measures the amount of GHG an organization produces in the course of its business activities. Direct emissions are those produced by sources the organization owns or controls, while indirect emissions are produced by resources the organization purchases. 

Net Zero

Net zero simply means cutting GHG emissions as close to zero as possible. It’s not the same as carbon-neutral, which involves offsetting carbon emissions and limiting future increases. Net zero emphasizes reductions in carbon emissions and using offsets as a last resort. As highlighted in our data center trends article, many organizations have set a goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

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Data Center Sustainability Strategies

Data center operators apply these concepts using a number of sustainability strategies. It’s important to note that some strategies have benefits and drawbacks.

Optimize Cooling

Cooling accounts for almost 40 percent of a data center’s energy consumption. Aisle containment helps conserve energy by preventing the mixing of chilled and hot air, and effective airflow management helps ensure that cooling reaches equipment. Larger data centers are using water cooling, which reduces carbon emissions but consumes vast amounts of water. Recirculated water cooling uses less water than traditional evaporative techniques. Free cooling involves filtering and humidifying naturally cool outside air and only using mechanical cooling when the ambient air is too hot.

Monitor and Measure

It’s impossible to track sustainability improvements without data. Smart PDUs and other devices enable operations teams to establish baselines of power usage, temperature, and other metrics. Ongoing monitoring will show the effects of techniques such as consolidating servers, replacing legacy equipment, and reorganizing the data center layout. Measuring temperature at multiple points throughout the data center can help identify ways to reduce the thermal load.

Consider Alternative Energy Sources

Data centers can become more sustainable by switching to renewable energy or, if possible, generating primary or backup power onsite using hydrogen fuel cells. Nuclear power may one day be an option — emerging small modular reactors can generate 300 megawatts of electricity or more.

Utilize Edge Computing

Edge computing offers many performance benefits for enterprise networks, such as reduced latency and bandwidth use, but it can also help with sustainability initiatives. By reducing dependence on a centralized data center, edge computing can lower cooling requirements and associated energy expenditure. That’s just one example. We share more about edge computing and sustainability in another article.

How Enconnex Is Addressing Data Center Sustainability

At Enconnex, we take sustainability seriously. As an ISO 14001:2015-certified company, we’ve incorporated an environmental management system designed to minimize our carbon footprint into our day-to-day operations. Additionally, we offer an array of products designed to help data centers meet their sustainability objectives. For example, our new InfiniRack data center cabinet is designed to efficiently manage airflow, minimizing energy wasted on inefficient cooling. Contact one of our data center experts to discuss your needs and goals.

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Posted by Dave Bercovich on August 18, 2023

Dave has 20 years of data center and IT infrastructure sales experience. He has represented manufacturing organizations such as Avaya, Server Technology, & The Siemon Company. As Sales Director with Enconnex, he builds relationships and grows the Enconnex business working with partners, and resellers.

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