Information technology is responsible for as many carbon emissions as air travel. Data centres, which house IT infrastructure, are growing at an exponential rate globally, and it is predicted that over the next five years, as much as 20% of all electricity generated will be consumed by the ICT sector.
Australia’s leading data centre provider NEXTDC is tackling this problem head-on: They have been carbon-neutral since 2018 and now offer an industry-leading carbon-neutral service to their customers. I recently had the pleasure to speak with Craig Scroggie, CEO of NEXTDC, about their journey to net-zero.
Craig is a visionary leader who is never satisfied with the status quo and is always on the lookout for performance improvements for his customers, and emissions reductions in NEXTDC’s business. In this article, I’ll share how NEXTDC achieved carbon neutrality, how they are helping their customers achieve their own sustainability goals, and Craig’s three key takeaway messages for other organisations looking to achieve net-zero emissions.
Data centres are power-hungry
Every time you watch a movie on Netflix, make a Zoom or Teams call, search for something on the Internet, post on LinkedIn, watch a funny cat video, or order online, data centres are working away in the background, processing, storing and disseminating the data and applications that enable our modern lifestyle.
In our interview, Craig notes that forecasts from Gartner, IDC and others indicate that every 18 to 24 months, the total amount of information worldwide doubles! It follows then that the amount of information that data centres need to store, back up, protect and share is also doubling.
ICT equipment needs power – and a lot of it. But it’s not just the equipment itself, there is also the power required to cool data centres. Even with advances in digital technology, ICT equipment still generates a lot of heat, which needs to be efficiently removed to ensure the data centre functions optimally.
When you add electricity use from air conditioning to the electricity consumption by the computer equipment itself, you can picture just how much energy is needed. Craig said that the power consumed by data centres globally is between 2% and 3% of all electricity use and that over the next five years, it is forecast that data centres will consume as much as 20% of all electricity generated.
How NEXTDC achieved carbon neutrality
NEXTDC is dedicated to continuously improving the benchmarks in the industry for data centre operational and sustainability excellence. For Craig, sustainability improvements start at the supply chain, the design, construction and development of data centres, and go all the way through to day-to-day operations.
NEXTDC is making use of the environment rather than use power to drive high-cost cooling and carefully manages airflow to reduce the amount of energy that is required to drive mechanical cooling systems.
They pioneered renewable energy production in the Australian data centre industry with M1 Melbourne’s $1.2 million photovoltaic system, installed eight years ago in 2013. NEXTDC is continuing its rollout of solar on data centre roofs as well as on adjacent buildings. They are also investing in power purchasing agreements, where they act collaboratively with other buyers to fund the development of wind farms and other generation technologies to power their facilities.
NEXTDC also places a high value on water efficiency and recycling of water, as well as recycling the company’s and their customer’s waste materials. As a testament to their operational efficiencies, NEXTDC’s SI Sydney and M1 Melbourne data centres have both been certified as NABERS 5-star rated data centre infrastructure facilities for energy efficiency.
Extending NEXTDC’s carbon neutrality to their customers
The next step in NEXTDC’s sustainability journey was to allow their customers to come together around a shared commitment to sustainability leadership and create a more sustainable future. NEXTDC created a service called NEXTneutral, which enables customers and partners to leverage the carbon offset capability NEXTDC has built for their own corporate program.
It is difficult for data centre customers to know how many carbon emissions are generated by data centre operation that relates to their business. Under NEXTneutral, the carbon emissions produced in a standard data centre rack are pre-calculated. NEXTDC takes care of the procurement of carbon offsets on their customers behalf, which helps their customers quickly and easily neutralise carbon emissions attributable to their portion of data centre electricity use. The carbon offsets fund important ecological projects, which in turn creates real change for the environment and for society.
It’s as easy as choosing to fly carbon neutral – NEXTDC customers can opt-in by going to their service management portal and clicking the NEXTneutral button, which allows them to offset their data centre emissions quickly and efficiently.
How NEXTDC manages physical climate change risks
In the interview, I asked Craig how physical climate risks are affecting NEXTDC. Craig mentioned that physical climate risks such as flooding, bushfires, earthquakes and cyclones are front of mind for data centres, alongside other physical risks that could cause outages and disruptions. He says that when you think about protecting customers infrastructure and building business continuity and resilience into operations, the first action is ensuring that the data centre is always on and always available.
With this in mind, NEXTDC has certified to the highest standard in the world. The Uptime Institute, an independent thought leader and certification body in IT and data centres, awarded NEXTDC the ultimate recognition of the overall design excellence of NEXTDC’s facilities. NEXTDC started with Tier III certification, then moved to Tier IV Certification for Fault Tolerance, which is the highest standard in the world.
Craig Scroggie’s three tips for other organisations moving to net-zero
The opportunity to be the platform of choice for the digital era comes with the responsibility to be stewards of a sustainable future. I asked Craig what advice he would give other organisations moving down the net-zero path. He provided these three takeaway messages:
1 – Just start
Craig says to just start and do something. It doesn’t matter where you start, but when you think about your operations, the sustainability of what you do, and looking for partners that can assist you, you don’t have to spend the next three years thinking about all elements of a sustainability strategy. Start somewhere, look at the areas in your supply chain that you can have the most influence over and choose something to make a difference on.
2 – Get help
The second key takeaway message from Craig is that there are a lot of people out there that would love to help. So if you’re looking to achieve Climate Active certification, you can talk to the relevant stakeholders and the Climate Active government department. If you need assistance with energy efficiency, benchmarking, and certification, talk to the NABERS team. You can speak with independent providers who measure energy efficiency and help you build strategies to reduce the amount of power you consume.
And if you’re a customer who builds IT infrastructure, or a cloud service provider or an enterprise, you can talk to a company like NEXTDC to help you opt into programs that allow you to offset the carbon footprint of your data centre and to also reduce your energy footprint. There are many people that want to make a difference in this area, so reach out to someone and start having a conversation on what action you can take that will make a difference.
3 – Never stop
Don’t try and solve the sustainability challenge all in one go. NEXTDC started out with small strategies, such as wanting to have renewable energy as an input to their business, and over time, they got better at managing airflow and reducing their PUE. Craig says that you need to look at the challenge with a long-term view. Being more sustainable is not something that is ever finished; it will always be a work in progress. Every day, every month, every year, you learn something new, and you continue to build that into your long-range plans.
For NEXTDC, every new sustainability achievement will put them a step closer to their long-range plan of getting to 100% renewable energy and to the long-term goal of 100% of their customer base opting into offsetting their carbon footprint as well.
About NEXTDC Limited
NEXTDC is Australia’s leading data centre-as-a-service company and one of Australia’s fastest-growing technology organisations. NEXTDC data centres and custom co-location solutions are engineered to grow in line with the demands of a business and promote flexibility through solutions that scale, supported by the country’s most dynamic and highly skilled ecosystem of partners, carriers and cloud platforms.
About 100% Renewables
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